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Canadian physician health expert tells colleagues: “Be civil”

A senior Canadian physician health expert has urged his colleagues to follow five fundamental principles of civility.

Dr. Michael Kaufmann, medical director of the Ontario Medical Association’s physician health program and Physician Workplace Support Program, took a somewhat lighthearted approach to the serious issue of disruptive physicians at the 2014 International Conference on Physician Health in London, UK.

Having written about his civility framework in the Ontario Medical Review earlier this year, Kaufmann seized the opportunity to present what he admits is a work in progress to an international audience, with a largely favourable response.

“This is just me trying to organize my thoughts on a subject (that) I think matters,” Kaufmann said, noting he wanted to discuss ways of further disseminating his views through a wide variety of media and formats.

Kaufmann explained that he didn’t enter the field of physician health to focus on disruptive behaviour in the workplace; the issue has been brought to his attention by physician leaders since the 1990s.

He said he has dealt with hundreds of “misbehaving – they don’t like being called disruptive – physicians” who are acknowledged to have a significant negative impact on workplace culture, and even on patient outcomes.

While the negative behaviour of disruptive physicians has been characterized in many ways, Kaufmann said civility is an acceptable approach to encourage the desired behaviour these doctors should practise.

In the sense he intends it, Kaufmann said civility goes beyond being nice and polite — although this is a necessary first step.

“It’s not just being Canadian,” he said, in a presentation full of references to both good and bad TV doctors and Canadian icons such as Tim Hortons.

Kaufmann’s five fundamentals of civility are:

  • Respect others and yourself.
  • Be aware.
  • Communicate effectively.
  • Take good care of yourself.
  • Be responsible.

“There’s no rocket science here,” he stated, but added these fundamentals are not always displayed or taught in a deliberate manner during medical training.

Taken together, the fundamentals can foster better behaviour, even when physicians are at risk of demonstrating disruptive characteristics.

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