My opinion is this: that most people, when they fail to meet a certain expectation, are unaware that they're doing so. Unless we're told, we can't ever be expected to realise our shortcomings. So why - when an intern or student is lazy, ineffective, or otherwise failing to meet an important expectation - are junior docs reluctant to tell them to pull their socks up?
I must say that there are a few things to point out, M&TS:
- Medical Staff in a hospital are like people on an escalator. At some point all of us had to step on, and started at the back, and then we moved up the line. We all remember what it was like being chastised, embarrassed and humiliated by the person in front, rare as those occasions might have been. We don't like doing it to those behind us unless things get really bad, and often by that stage it is a bit too late.
Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence
The only way to have a private conversation in a hospital.
- It is unprofessional to criticise a colleague (even a junior is a colleague) in public. Unfortunately, it is rare to find a private moment to have these discussions in a hectic day at the hospital. There is always somebody around - nurses, patients, other doctors.
- Often the junior knows what is coming and will actively avoid situations where they have to confront their senior. This may happen deliberately or unconsciously.
- Most of us have not had adequate training on how to deal with these situations, teaching modalities, and conflict resolution. Even when you can manage to sit down in private with this person, it is very easy to say the wrong thing, or to get so emotionally wound up about it yourself that you cannot be professional, courteous and objective in your feedback.
- Not uncommonly, procrastination on your half may lead to avoidance behaviour by yourself as well. This may take the form of ignoring the problem, completing the tasks yourself, delegating the criticism or feedback to someone else (like a senior), or excusing the junior's behaviour. This may be rationalised away: "It's too hard to change them", "They're untrainable", "It's not worth the trouble", "It's faster if I do it", "It should be the Head of Unit that talks to them", "They've got a lot on their plate" etc.
- Lastly, part of the journey is to learn some natural self-awareness. Usually I believe that the junior staff member is aware of their own faults - they just need gentle encouragement to improve their behaviour. Don't underestimate the power of the subtle look of disappointment, or the probing question which shows that both you and they know what the problem is but escapes everyone else. There comes a time when you will not always have someone else to pull you aside and talk to you - you have to keep an eye out for yourself.
As for advice for you, M&TS? Be proactive about your training and your faults. Our training system is intended to encourage medical students and HMOs to have enquiring minds, and to seek out answers. Your seniors may know the answers, but not be very good at teaching you. If you sit back and let it all happen to you, then you don't get the full benefit of the opportunities that are available to you.