There is something very tangible in the – for lack of a larger more professional sounding word – “vibe” of the 7th floor at Klick Health. As I stroll through Editorial on Friday morning of my first week, I sense that my need to show no fear is missing. Its absence slowly becomes more and more noticeable the way your ears start to pickup on white noise and eventually translate it into its own sound. And it starts me thinking – how is the culture different between the medical and agency realms? I will direct my assessment towards 4 main observations: egos, work-life balance, creative headspace, and empathy.
They (yes the nameless and elusive “they”) do not tell you when you start training to be a physician that you learn to coat yourself in a doctor’s mien much like slipping into a lab coat. You might surmise based on the nature of the work, that you would have to develop a thicker skin, learn how to form rapid connections with people of all sorts and gradually train your mind to ignore its automatic desire to freak out at the sight of blood. But what they don’t tell you is that you will also develop a secret almost mad desire to look smart in front of your peers. Scratch that. SmartER. That becomes really challenging when grand rounds is populated by only the best and brightest in healthcare and your A type nature wants to convince your colleagues that you always stay late, can survive entirely on caffeine and gum, read at least 6 journals a night in addition to conducting your own research in your spare time. It matches the societal trend of needing to at least “appear” busy as a status symbol or ego boost. It’s refreshing to find our floor is a consistent ego-free zone, which is uncommon amongst any large group of physicians.
It’s exhausting. During wellness sessions run by your medical school, which is a step in the right direction for improving culture, you may discuss with your small group how important it is to support each other through hard times and challenging cases and you practice saying “I don’t know” in unison. In that moment, during that session, you believe that you can actually integrate that mentality into the practice of medicine . . . until you leave the room. Now what I’ve said so far has mainly been harshly one-sided. In fact medicine IS getting better. New obstetricians are now offered the option of working 12 versus 24 hour shifts (although interestingly many still choose 24). Wellness is the new buzz word in residency. The University of Toronto has its own wellness department and there are 2-3 full days a year dedicated to resident well-being and team building through activities such as yoga, cupcake decorating and drum circles. But what I’m addressing isn’t formally organized events that occur every so often, because all companies have these to some extent. I’m talking about the culture day to day, the feeling you get in your environment, working on a project, establishing the needs for the care of each patient, brainstorming sessions and especially what happens when your team is stretched to their limit and the stress starts to fly.
The culture in family medicine, where I recently emigrated from, wasn’t as bad as some of the other specialties. Family medicine has the habit of collecting members who prize work life balance. That being said, it’s work life balance taken in the context of physicians who don’t always know what that concept really means. Where they put their bar isn’t always where the general population would set it.
Now I’m only about a week deep into agency life so I’m sure I will pick up on more trends and nuances to the differences in culture in the coming weeks. However, I get the impression that if you are sick at Klick Health, you go home. Or rather, you don’t come to work in the first place. We will see how this plays out as the colder months approach (winter IS coming). Ironically, in a profession whose main goal is healthcare, it’s not uncommon for physicians to continue working even when they are sick. Go figure how we justify that to ourselves. And it’s not as if we don’t have anyone who can write us a doctor’s note.
I deferred to a colleague of mine while writing this who also made the jump from medicine to agency life. For someone like him with a creative streak, he found it hard to carve out creative headspace to try the “let’s see what happens” approach in an environment fenced in with strict regulatory protocols. And when you are dealing with human lives you do want to follow the tried and tested method. In an agency, you have a bit more space to fly your personal freak flag and expose your quirks that may initially tweak your self-conscious streak. I admire physicians who let their insides show in the comfort of their own offices. Then again, their creative and entrepreneurial spirits are bounded by a lot more red tape also know as the College (of Physicians and Surgeons who decide whether they want to license you or not) and the CMPA (Canadian Medical Protective Association), your lawyers and go-to for advice whenever you brush up against any of that tape.
My colleague brought up an interesting point about empathy. In medicine, you hold back a bit of yourself and how much you invest in someone in favour of self-preservation. There is a reason why surgeons don’t operate on their children. Even amongst patients who were initially strangers when you first added them to your practice – to keep the focus of the appointment on them and their issues, it necessitates keeping you and your experiences to yourself. In an agency, you are encouraged, especially when it comes to user experience, do put the empathy shoes on and get messy in order to bring the most realism to your craft. Contrarily, it adds value to the work you do instead of detracting from it.
Medical vs. agency “emergencies”
My colleague and I both admitted that we like what the agency culture (specifically Klick culture) has done for us with respect to egos, work-life balance, creativity and empathy. We did have a shared moment of amusement though over what is perceived as an “emergency” in agency speak. Medicine as a vocation is very serious. In every instance you are taught to think of the worst possible things that could happen to a patient and then work back from there. When something is emergent or there is a rush case, it usually means someone is about to die. Agencies have time-sensitive tasks of course, but there are degrees of seriousness and due to our training, we both find the use of the word “emergency” makes us smile.