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Saying ‘No’ As Physicians

Aug 24, 2023

One of the earliest words that infants learn is ‘no’. It is amazing how they say it so readily and confidently. They seem to know when to use that two-letter word almost all the time.

As adults, most of us seem to have lost the ability to readily say ‘no’. That is even more so among physicians. As physicians, many of us have lost two important skills – writing legibly and saying no.

Thankfully, the writing part is compensated by typing. As for the ability to say no, that is a vital skill to relearn.

Whenever you are saying yes to something, you are saying no to something else.

As physicians, you are trained to do everything to the best of your ability, so that you can take great care of your patients. You are expected to perform according to the highest of the highest standards. When there is a patient scheduled to see you, there is pretty much no room to say no to seeing the patient, other than having a schedule conflict or if you are sick yourself. While seeing that patient, the patient may try to convince you to agree on something you are not comfortable with. Saying no in this situation is an important step to relearn. Remember that you are here to take care of your patients the best way you know. If you are presented with suggestions which are not evidence-based or are simply erroneous, saying no is the most appropriate next step. Keep in mind that you have your patient’s best interest as your focus. By saying ‘no’ to the care you are not comfortable with, you are saying yes to the way you care for your patient. You are saying yes to yourself. You are saying yes to trusting and doing what you know.

Another situation is when your organization or your superior asks you to do something that is additional to your usual job description. If that is something you enjoy doing, and you believe you have the time and mental capacity to handle it, then by all means, say yes. On the other hand, if you think that this additional job or task is a burden for you, is something not in alignment with your values, or is going to interfere with your life outside of work, then you may want to say no.

Sometimes our desire to help others is so strong that we forget to ask ourselves what we truly want. In the work environment, it is important to examine your situation. How many patients are you seeing? Do you have allotted research time so that taking up another research project is not going to affect your work hours too much? Or if you are asked to join a committee or head the committee, is that something you can take on without increasing your stress level?

Those are simply examples from my own experience, and they are fairly common situations. Say ‘no’ to doing something if that is going against your values. Say ‘no’ if you think that you are being taken advantage of. Say ‘no’ if it is something you are not quite willing to do and it is compromising your time outside of work.

Saying ‘no’ to a patient because you know that is not the best option. That is your responsibility.

Saying ‘no’ to violating the limit of working beyond your work hours may take a lot of courage and effort. You will thank you when the future you look back at this moment.

It is impossible to say ‘yes’ to everything. Something has got to give. It is vital for you to examine your life in general. What your values are, what you cannot tolerate, where to draw the line.

When you say ‘no’ to something or someone, you are saying ‘yes’ to your values, to your physical and mental health. You are saying ‘yes’ to yourself.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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