The overwhelm in healthcare services has a significant impact on employees and the consumers they serve. Supporting competence and confidence in healthcare practitioners is key to re-energizing and re-engaging nurses, doctors, and practitioners at every level.  

Case in point— 

“I don’t know why you keep bleeding,” the technician said, as she pressed down on the needle. With a cage over my face, earplugs in my ears, and the humming of the MRI machine making it nearly impossible to hear her, I froze. 

“Do you feel pain or pressure?” she asked. 

Do I? I asked myself. 

Having barely detected the original pinch of the needle, I checked in with my body, trying to determine if the pain and pressure was enough to voice. 

“I need a ‘yes’ or a ‘no!’” she commanded. 

“No,” I blurted out in an effort to calm her, though I was beginning to feel discomfort and pain in my arm. 

Shit. Should I have told her ‘Yes?’ I wondered, fearing the worst.   

“Why is it bleeding so much,” she asked outload, as she pressed down harder on the point of the needle, “I hope I got the dye in the vein and not the muscle.” 

(pause here – I am not a fan of needles. The idea of someone pressing down on a needle that is in my arm gives me the heebie-jeebies. Shutting the visuals out of my mind, I slammed my eyes shut and started taking deep breaths.) 

You hope you got it in the vein, and not the muscle, I repeated inside my head, now terrified of the impact of the dye being in the wrong place. 

“Okay, we’re going to put you back in to finish the test. Hold 100% still,” she said. 

As the machine started moving, my arm started pulsing with pain. Unsure what it meant to get the dye in my muscle instead of my vein, I imagined my arm turning purple, stiffening, and being painful for days. Would I need to redo this test? Should I have told her it was painful? 

As her words played over in my head again and again, tension escalated and so did the pain in my arm. “Keep still,“ she said, placing the squeezable ball in the same hand she had just put the dye in, and pushed the button to put me back into the belly of the MRI machine.  

Imagining fluids squirting out of the vein she just injected, I refused to squeeze that ball to ask if everything was okay with my arm. I didn’t want to do anything to cause anymore issues for my arm or this test. And so, I laid still, and used my breathing to stay out of my thinking. 

As the machine finished, I was sure my arm would be purple and in need of a doctor. I was scared, and then embarrassed when she responded to my concern by grabbing and squeezing my arm. “You’re fine,” she said, as if she wasn’t the one whose uncertainty provoked all this fear. 

“All done,“ she said, “you did a great job!“ 

Unsure if the test worked, and whether it would need to be repeated, I held back from punching her in the throat, or at least giving her a piece of my mind. 

“Did the test work?” I asked. “Could you see what you needed to see on the imaging?” 

“Oh, yeah. It’s good. All done. Have a good day,” she said, handing me paperwork and then telling me how to get out of the office building. 

Still too agitated to think properly, and therefore voice my concerns, I held my tongue. Sitting down into my car, I called a friend who has experience with dye injections and asked if this was a “normal” experience. As it turns out, they do sometimes miss the vein, but she had never had anyone say, “Why does it keep bleeding?” 

While I am not in a position to explain why it kept bleeding, I am clear that my confidence in her skillset evaporated quickly, leaving me more anxious and barely able to do my job (hold still). The same is true for everyone in a position of leadership. When our title gives us the privilege of directing other people, it is our responsibility to lead (serve others) with confidence and competence. 

When we put time, energy, and resources into improving in our competences (in hard and soft skills), our confidence increases. As our confidence increases so does our ability to put others at ease, and we all do better when we feel a sense of safety, whether in an MRI machine or delivering a presentation to a customer. There’s little that’s more valuable in leadership than someone whose presence says, “I’ve done my homework. I’ve got you.” 

Do mistakes still happen? Yes, of course. And mistakes can be used to point the direction to improvement, instead of pretending it didn’t happen. Can you imagine how differently I would have felt had she said, “I’m sorry that happened. I’m not sure what went wrong, but we were able to get the results we needed… and, I intend to get some more training.” I would have hugged (or high-fived her) her. 

We all want to do a good job. We want to do our jobs with confidence and the good feeling of giving our best, especially in healthcare. As leaders, it’s critical that we find time and resources to bolster our competence and confidence. 

Here’s to your greatness,  

Misti Burmeister 

Misti Burmeister helps leaders and their team have conversations they keep avoiding but need to have. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com