It’s the beginning of a new academic year. Therefore I wanted to share some things that I’ve learned along the way. Some were taught to me by very smart people, others I figured out through trial and error. These are simple little things that you can do every day that will help you do your job just a little bit better.

Answering the phone

Let’s set the stage. You are the resident working in the emergency department. You put out a consult page to surgery. The surgeon calls back promptly because they are excited to hear about appendicitis. How do you answer the phone?

Do you, say “Hey, this is Brad?” No, of course you don’t. I don’t work with any doctors or other medical professionals that go just by their first name (Not even you, Javier…). And yes, this is very much common sense. However, day in day out the “Hi, this is [your name]” is something that I’m greeted with when I answer the phone in the emergency department. So why am I being pedantic here? Is this just a Gen-Xer grumbling? I’d argue that it is more important than ever to identify yourself properly when communicating over the telephone. This tweet from @hot_garnish, borrowed from a recent Twitter thread on this exact topic nails why this is happening.

This extends to all of our digital communication in daily life. Messages, Zoom Calls, emails all have the parties involved clearly labelled. Even in the hospital if you are using an application like Voalte for voice calls, both the caller and receiver know who is on the line. But many of our communications in medicine are not with people that we know. If you were answering a call from the Chief of Staff would you answer with “Hi, this is Brad” (answer = no)? Furthermore, with the new academic year upon us, we know that there are many new physicians and other health care professionals working in the hospital. So, my humble advice, is that when you are answering a telephone call in the hospital, calling a consult, contacting a patient’s primary care doctor, speaking with a family, or communicating with anyone with whom you are not personally familiar with in a professional context that you develop a “script” and answer the phone with the following information.

  • First and last name
  • Professional role (resident, senior resident etc,.)
  • Location/team in the hospital (Emergency Department, PICU, Red Team, etc,.)
  • If you are calling someone outside of the institution add the facility that you are currently working in

My wife is a Primary Care Doctor. She will ask me, more than a few times a month if “Bob” or “Mary” (made up names of course) are residents from our program, because that is all that they say when they answer the phone… If I’m off-base here, let me know in the comments, or on Twitter (@PEMTweets), but I think that by being just a little more aware of how we begin our telephone conversations with a professional salutation, we can get to know each other better, and demonstrate a slightly higher level of professionalism that will benefit all of us.

Hold on while I step down from my soap box…