5 ways to engage at a higher level with colleagues and team members

You own your own practice and the demands on your time leave you wishing you had more than 24 hours in every day. What if you could invest four minutes in reading this article to realize a rate of return that would allow you to engage in a more meaningful way with the people that matter the most?

Then let’s go!

As a physician, you sell the intellectual knowledge developed from your years of training and clinical experience. You are compensated for your time, so gaining the information you need quickly and efficiently will lead to improved clinical outcomes and increased compensation.

My interviews with CEOs at five high-performing rural hospitals and research I designed led to the following practices, which you can add to your daily interactions with your fellow physicians, hospital executive team members, and staff.

Ask great questions and generate positivity.

We gain clarity with improved understanding. You have likely heard of the five whys in clinical improvement. Adopt this method in dealing with others. Ask to understand and listen intently to the responses. By asking great questions, we can more quickly and deeply understand what is being requested of us.

Let’s look at an example. The throughput in your clinic is not as robust as you like. The old method is for you to determine where the bottlenecks exist and suggest solutions. A new approach would be to gather the team and get input from every member. Encourage each person to suggest three things that, if improved, would lead to better patient flow.

The people closest to the work often have the best answers, and if team members are responsible for generating ideas and solutions, the impact is more sustainable with improved results.

Be accessible and show interest in team member concerns

As a physician, you are the quarterback. Make sure you take time to listen to your team members. Carve out one-on-one time for your staff so you can ask how things are going for them. It’s their career, too, and retention of skilled employees is far easier than recruiting and training new staff.

In a busy practice, improvement suggestions often happen between patients at the nurse’s station. Your mind may be a thousand miles away on 20 things dominating your thoughts. A new approach would be to schedule time on a monthly basis for one-to-one meetings with staff members. Being proactive and addressing staff concerns will avoid disruption caused by staff leaving your practice. Find what matters to them and determine if changes implemented based on those issues benefit your practice.

Find ways to express gratitude

Your job as a physician and business owner is tough, and so is the job of your colleagues and staff. Tell them you appreciate them and be specific. Be creative in expressing your appreciation and use detail to describe how their actions positively impact your collective patients and your practice of medicine.
At your next team meeting, focus on one specific thing each staff member does, either large or small, that contributes to the success of your clinic. For example, Sara orders supplies, and Bob takes time to clean the nurses’ station for the benefit of all.

One CEO I interviewed has his executive team serve meals to all hospital employees on a quarterly basis. How much would lunch every three months cost compared to the expense of advertising for new staff, interviewing candidates, and beginning an extensive orientation program?

Be transparent with high frequency

The most effective physicians I work with as a hospital CEO remind me not to be paternal and “blow sunshine” on difficult topics. Physicians are used to complex environments and results that often are not ideal. Don’t sugarcoat the situation. Find reasons to interact frequently with people who are important to you and your practice. Repetition builds trust, and small, sincere interactions build trusting relationships.

Think about that one radiologist whose reports frequently require you to dig deeper, order additional tests that might be questionably appropriate, and cause concern for your patients. The old approach is to grumble and fight through it. The new approach is to request a 15-minute meeting every three months to review specific cases, share perspectives, and be transparent about how the report requires action on your behalf. The first three meetings might not result in improved radiology reports, but over time a symbiotic relationship just might emerge. The radiologist begins to understand what is important to you, and you understand at a higher level the intent of her findings.

In times of crisis, be intentional about communication differently

Whether a complicated clinical issue or a business challenge, make sure the person you are engaging with understands that this is a time of crisis. Through your language and non-verbal communication, leave no doubt that this is important and effective; crisp engagement is required.
The COVID pandemic forced all of us to implement change at the speed of light. Were there lessons learned during high-volume periods of time that you might apply to your practice in those seasons when your volume spike? Talk to team members about what they learned during the pandemic that might have been lost in the ensuing months when things calmed down. Let’s look for best practices we can retain.


Small changes in the way we engage with the people who matter the most, your physician colleagues and team members, can lead to meaningful improvements in your practice. And it might just get you out the door to your kid’s soccer game on time!

Dr. David L. Schreiner is the author of Be the Best Part of Their Day: Supercharging Communication with Values-Driven Leadership. He also is president/CEO of Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital in Dixon, Ill. He is a passionate advocate for rural hospitals, having spent most of his life in small towns and working in small communities. A values-driven leader, Schreiner aims to be a missionary for excellent health and vibrant communities and spread love through generosity and healing. His research focuses on improving the health of others, with a particular emphasis on rural communities. Schreiner served on the American College of Healthcare Executives’ Board of Governors from 2016-2019. He is also the past chairman of the American Hospital Association Rural Health Task Force. He was the 2007 Dixon, Illinois Citizen of the Year and received the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of St. Francis College of Business.