Slow & steady wins

Don Hunsberger taught me many things. As my first real boss, Hunsberger supported, mentored and engaged me. As a matter of fact, he is one of the few people who heavily influenced how I practice today.

In 2010, shortly after becoming a registered nurse, Dr. Hunsberger hired me to work in his busy family practice. It didn’t take me long to notice that we were rarely, if ever on time. People would often wait 20, 30, sometimes 45 minutes or longer to be seen. But they rarely complained. They knew that he would give them the time they needed when it was their turn.

If someone was to receive bad news, we always booked them at the end of the day to give them undivided attention and unlimited time. If someone had to be seen urgently, we made space for them.

The lesson was simple, but difficult: Don’t rush people.

It’s interesting what happens when people are in a hurry to serve us. Do you hold back from saying what’s on your mind? How likely are you to ask for what you need when someone’s foot is out the door?

It’s easy to assume it’s obvious that people think we care. When people see us in a hurry, they think we don’t have time for them. Our body language says we’ve got more important things to do.

This lesson has shaped how I practice. I cannot work at an assembly line pace. I don’t like saying to people “Sorry, I have time for only one problem today. Book another appointment before you leave”. I buckle when I’m under pressure to stay ‘on schedule’.

I want to give people the time and attention they need to achieve their best health. People deserve that. Instead of frantically worrying about the clock or thinking about how many people are waiting for me, I try to be present and calm.

Today, whenever I precept students, I make a point to tell them not to worry too much about staying on time and watching the clock. Instead, I remind them that it’s okay to slow down and take their time, to sit down and really listen. People need space to tell their story, and rushing gets in the way.

So often we think our work is a series of tasks to be completed. It’s not. We’re in the business of relationships. Maya Angelou reminds me of this when she said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We’re not here to race against the clock, we’re here to care. We can’t be there for people and respond to unforeseen needs and maintain an inflexible schedule. If all we do is focus on wait times, then we cannot squeeze people in or spend extra time with those who need it.

I’m not certain I would have the guts to slow down and be okay with running behind had it not been for Don Hunsberger.