The Emotional Abuse of Physicians-Part 5: Tools of the Trade, The Weaponization of “Team Player”

The emotional despair of physicians as a whole is at an all-time high. The workplace stressors experienced by physicians because of the COVID pandemic have revealed the toxic nature of the medical establishment in the United States. What physicians have experienced and endured is nothing short of emotional abuse.

And like any good abuser, the medical establishment and health care organizations have made physicians participants in their abuse by using tools of manipulation. One way in which they do this is by weaponizing the idea of the “team player.”

This is the typical scenario:

You get called into a meeting by your director. In that meeting, they tell you that your clinical skills are fine, but there is a problem regarding “your interpersonal interaction with the staff.”  When you ask for specifics, they can’t give you any. They won’t tell you which staff member has the problem with you, what the exact issue is, what was said or done that was so offensive, or the date and time of the said incident.

They won’t give you any objective details about a subjective experience. Nor do they give you any meaningful advice on how to deal with the perceived issue.

They just tell you to “be a team player.”

But what exactly does “being a team player” mean to a physician?

A physician is the most highly trained and skilled member of the medical team. We alone are trained to evaluate, diagnose, plan, and treat. And while other members of the medical team are trained to do their respective jobs, it is the physician’s role to coordinate all the other roles as it pertains to the care of the patient. So we are, in fact, the head of the medical team, or we should be.

But all too often, the admonishment to “be a team player” is nothing more than an attempt to diminish and dilute the authority of the physician. And it is no surprise that the diminution of the role of the physician as evidenced by calls for the physician to “be a team player” and the elevation of the “medical team” comes at a time when more women and non-whites are becoming physicians.

But here’s the catch – while physicians are expected to downplay their authority by being a “good team player,” there is no shared medical liability among the medical team. There is no “team” in liability, and physicians are the ones who bear the brunt of responsibility and liability.

Here’s how “being a team player” works against physicians:

  1. Not speaking up about unsafe work conditions for fear of being labeled, “Not a team player.”
  2. Agreeing to work longer hours, and take more call, even though it may be detrimental, because you want to be seen as a “team player.”
  3. Not insisting on a certain plan of care because other members of the team oppose it even though it is standard of care because you want to be seen as a “team player.”

It is easy to see how the medical establishment and health care organizations use the idea of being a “team player” as nothing more than a tool to keep physicians in line, regulate physician behavior, and control physicians.

And this is nothing more than abuse.


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