Evaluating the Behavior of Health Care Staff

Article excerpt

A recent Gallup poll telephone survey asked the public to rate the honesty and ethics of people in specific careers. It showed that 83 percent of participants rank nurses as having "very high" or "high" ethical standards, making them the most ethically sound of the listed professions. (1) Pharmacists and physicians were ranked second and third, followed by police officers. Based on this report, the responding public's perception indicates a high level of confidence in the ethics of health care professionals. If offenders and staff within your agency were polled, what do you think the results would show?

Health care professionals shoulder tremendous responsibilities. Correctional health care professionals shoulder those responsibilities in a complex work environment. Our experience; competency; and ability to communicate, analyze information, problem solve, plan, and educate patients and families can have a huge impact on our patients' short- and long-term outcomes, quality of life and health literacy. We are expected to be health care educators, knowledgeable about disease processes and treatments, technically skilled, contributing to advancements in the field through the development of evidenced-based practice, and effectively participating both as leaders and members of a team. We must also be compassionate, respectful of others, objective, accountable, analytical, accommodating to change, and have personal and professional integrity. Stress and high performance expectations are part of our chosen career path. Understanding how personal and workplace stress impacts behavior and performance and how we, in turn, are viewed by our patients, their families, and other staff contributes to our credibility as competent professionals.

The results of a 2009 survey of more than 2,100 nurses and physicians conducted by the American College of Physician Executives indicates that health care professionals are not consistently supportive of each other and the members of their treatment team. While the focus of the survey centered on physician/nurse interactions, negative or inappropriate nurse-to-nurse conduct was also reported. Respondents submitted examples of disruptive interactions and a lack of respect between health care professionals that was deemed to have adversely affected staff morale and patient care. Examples of the behavior include gossiping, degrading comments (in some cases in front of patients and family members), inappropriate jokes, swearing, refusing to work with some staff, accusations of mistreatment related to personal vendettas, disregard of treatment-related communications, shunning of "unpopular" staff members, disruptive arguing, and throwing instruments. Degrading comments were reported by 85 percent of those responding. Many correctional health professionals could probably contribute their own examples of dealing with or witnessing unprofessional conduct or disruptive situations between peers. While there is no way to verify the accuracy of these events or the extent to which they occur, there are lessons to be learned.

As individuals taking pride in our chosen profession, it is important to evaluate what we can do to improve relationships within our team, and the impact that has on how the individual members and the whole team are perceived. Perception influences credibility. Positive perception enhances trust in the actions taken and decisions made. The team starts with co-workers in the health care unit and extends to counselors, security staff, administrators, food service employees, teachers, case managers, and others who may share responsibility for the security and care of the patient. Individuals do not have to like each other, but they must find a way to work effectively together to achieve the common goals of a healthy, safe and secure environment.

Correctional health care staff are confronted with unique challenges both within the facility and from external sources. …