A General Surgeon’s Perspective on the Importance of Offering Feedback w/ Respect to Nurse & Patient Safety

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by Ken Cohn, MD, MBA and CEO of Healthcare Collaboration

Now that it is September, my curiosity increases. I think about one comment in Confident Voices, questionthat nurses eat their young at birth. It makes me wonder as a general surgeon how a new nurse feels starting out, especially at night, where there is a steep learning curve. It must be challenging to know that one can get chewed out for not calling a doctor, especially if a patient does not do well, and that the doctor can be upset about having his/her sleep interrupted as well.

What does that uncertainty do for patient safety? I have argued that nurse safety and patient safety are intertwined in that when a nurse gets chewed out for an unnecessary call, s/he becomes less comfortable about calling a physician when a patient does not look right, which could be a harbinger of cardiopulmonary collapse.

In Nursing Collaboration, I saluted Nikki for making me realize, “Just because that patient is the seventh you have seen with a sprained ankle doesn’t mean that it is her seventh sprained ankle.” She cared enough about patient care to critique my bedside manner and thought that I was trainable.

In Collaborative Naivete, I confessed my inability to understand nursing conflict because I had no training in conflict management in medical school, residency, and fellowship training. The major take- away I gained from reading Confident Voices had to do with offering feedback:

  • Check to see if your feedback is desired
  • Use specific events rather than hot-button words that judge or exaggerate (like always or never)
  • Focus on behavior rather than personality
  • Ask the person for his or her opinion
  • Listen actively, validate the other person’s input, and thank the person
  • Reflect upon the feedback to create greater self-awareness

We marvel at how rapidly healthcare is changing because of research developments. In interpersonal relationships and conflict management, however, the change is not occurring rapidly enough.


ken cohnKen is a general surgeon/ MBA and CEO of Healthcare Collaboration, who works with organizations to engage disgruntled doctors to improve clinical and financial performance. To learn more about what he does, please visit Healthcare Collaboration.

Contact Ken: info@healthcarecollaboration.com

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