Lessons from Being a Homeowner that Made Me A Better Physician

October 17, 2023
It’s been just over two years of homeownership for me, and a multitude of contractors have suddenly entered my life. I’ve developed an entourage, including an electrician, a drywall team, insulators, plumbers, landscapers, and many more.
Naturally, I have to put my trust in the contractor if I’m going to write them a check for a multi-thousand dollar project. Along the way, I’ve been astounded at how fantastic some are, both at their chosen trade as well as their salesmanship. And I’ve been utterly disappointed by those that left me high and dry.
The lessons I’ve learned have many parallels to medicine, and have me thinking about how I approach my patients and my job, and how I can improve upon these things. Allow me to share these connections with you, so that you can perform some self-reflection, and be the best doctor you can be. 

6 Things Homeownership Taught Me About Being a Physician

1. Respond to queries as soon as possible.

For a recent landscaping project, I was pleasantly surprised when one company responded to my initial query almost instantly, as opposed to other companies that took weeks or months to respond. Some companies blew off my request for estimates entirely. The fast responder gave me his personal cell phone number, and told me to text him with any questions, which were always met with swift replies. 

Of course, I don’t suggest that you give every patient your personal cell number. But I am saying that there is a ton of value in having a reputation for quick response times. 

Does someone need a consult? Get it done now. Is a CT scan still not read? Walk down to radiology and get an answer for your attending right now, after reviewing it with the radiologist. Sitting around and waiting is not a good strategy. Be proactive in your efforts to both uncover information, and to give information to parties that are requesting it. 

2. Likability is reliability.

Many times two contractors come to me with similar plans and similar estimates. I practically always go with the contractor I liked more, whether it’s a conscious decision, or merely my subconscious pointing me in their direction. 

When a worker comes to my house, and they make it seem like they are doing me a huge favor, and that I’ve inconvenienced them by asking for an estimate, they are likely not getting the job. When they come in and speak kindly to my children, engage my cat, and maintain a sense of humility and affability, they’re the one I’m going with.

The same holds true on rounds. The more your patients like you, the more they will trust your medical decision-making and guidance. They may even improve their compliance. Stay likable, and don’t come off as “inconvenienced” by having to do your work. 

3. Confidence goes a long way.

When someone comes to the house with a wishy-washy plan they are not sure about, I lose confidence in them. Sure, some projects require conferring with another expert, but a lack of confidence is easy to pick up on, and does not sit well with homeowners. 

Patients pick up on this too, and they want a doctor that appears to know what they’re doing. While you should never overstate things or make big calls that you are unsure about, carry yourself with confidence and certainty. This further builds trust.

4. Mistakes happen, so own up to them.

When we had the kitchen floor refinished, the job was done well, but in the corner of the room there was a worker’s footprint that had been finished into the floor. I raised this concern with the company, and they took responsibility for the error, and offered to fix it or discount it. It was definitely the high road for them to take, and I appreciated the manner in which they went about it.

If they had blamed me for the footprint, or someone insinuated that “these things happen,” I would have been incensed. 

The same holds true at the hospital. Mistakes happen, and miscommunications take place. Don’t dance around them or blame the patient. Own the mistake, apologize, and explain how you are going to ensure it doesn’t happen again for any of your patients.

5. Unforeseen bad things can happen. Have a solution and keep me in the loop.

Most homeowners have heard things like:

“The bricks we agreed upon are no longer made by this mason.”

“Weather is delaying the project by 3 weeks.”

“We pulled the drywall back and the foundation is moldy.”

Does any of that sound familiar? 

In the real world, things don’t always go according to plan. But when the contractor is forthright in explaining what the problem is, provides a solution, and practices timely communication, the frustration is ameliorated. 

Of course, unexpected problems arise in medicine as well. Those contractor phrases can be easily replaced with:

“An emergency C-section is bumping your C-section to later in the day.”

“The equipment necessary for the procedure has to be reprocessed, so your surgery will be delayed.”

“There’s an emergency in the OR, so I will not be able to do your epidural at this moment. I’ll come as soon as I possibly can.”

Like a good contractor, a doctor should explain why there has been a change of plans, and unless they are unreasonable, your patient will understand and appreciate that you’ve filled them in. 

6. Please spend time with me if I have questions.

I know as much about gable fans and soffits as my roofer knows about transesophageal echocardiography. When a contractor is talking shop, clearly I can’t understand everything, and I need them to spell things out for me, and delineate what’s important and what’s not. 

That’s my job for my patients as well. I never leave the room until I’m sure that every question has been answered. It all ties in with the trust and likability issue we discussed earlier. 

Further Reading

While practicing medicine is different from securing a client and closing a sale, at the end of the day, we are selling ourselves to our patients. It’s true that depending on the circumstance, they may not have other doctors to choose from. Nonetheless, we want to give them the care that would have made us their top choice anyway. 

Incorporating these six lessons I learned as a new homeowner can make all of us better doctors, because we will be providing the service our patients are looking for. 

Looking for more (free!) content for professional practice as a physician? Check out these other posts on the Rosh Review blog: 

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By Brian Radvansky, MD

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