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The Danger of Not Asking For Help At Work

Jun 27, 2024

Dr. N has been an attending physician for close to ten years. Whenever she gets stuck with figuring out what the best management option is for the patient, she does her research and tries her best to find the solution on her own. Sometimes, she can spend hours to try to figure out what the next step is for the patient.

As she is sharing this with me, Dr. N states that she does not want to ask for help. She thinks that she should not be asking for help. Her belief is that, if she was an attending physician for less than three years, it would probably still be alright to ask for help – not when she was 9 years into being a full-fledged attending.

“Why not?” I ask curiously.

Dr. N shares with me that she should not be asking for help, because she is supposed to know everything.

As a physician, there is a certain expectation that you have the medical knowledge most of the time to make the best judgment and care plan for your patients. Notice I write “most of the time” and not “all the time”. The medical field is constantly expanding. New treatment guidelines and recommendations come out all the time. It is challenging to keep up even within your own specialty.

Yes, physicians are expected to know many things, and it is okay not to know everything. It is okay to ask for help.

When you do not ask for help, you will spend extra time to figure things out on your own. You may have misunderstood the situation without knowing it. You may be stuck because you have made a mistake along the way. Sometimes, this may be detrimental. Asking for an extra hand may save you time. By not asking for help, you risk having compromised efficiency and productivity. You are also indirectly promoting the culture of self-sufficiency and over-independence.

The biggest obstacle to asking for help is fear. There is the fear of being vulnerable. You may have subconsciously put up this invisible shield that you believe an ideal attending physician should have, the one who is supposed to know everything. Asking for help is another way to indicate that you do not know everything. Since there is that image in mind, asking for help to you is inviting others to judge you and to criticize you. You believe that others may think you are incompetent or you are weak.

There is also the fear of rejection. What if the person you asked says no? You may make it mean that you are not good enough to ask for help. Or you are not worthy enough for someone to offer you help. The fear of rejection is so strong that you would rather not ask for help in the first place.

The fear of safety also comes up as one of the major reasons people do not ask for help. Are you working in an environment that only rewards independent work? Do you feel like you are going to be reprimanded if you ask for help?

Asking for help is an opportunity to learn and grow. You get to learn from others in different ways. You get to learn new skills sometimes. Sometimes you get to look at the problem from a different perspective and solve it better. Asking for help saves you time. You save time by tapping into other resources.

It is important to accept that asking for help is okay whenever you need it. It is okay to be vulnerable sometimes. It is okay to be human. It is okay when the other person says no – it does not necessarily mean rejecting you as a person.

When you ask for help, trust that the person can help you. Be respectful of everyone’s time and effort. Be grateful. Be ready to give back anytime. When someone asks you for help and it is within your ability and expertise, do not hesitate to offer the help. Cultivate a work environment that is safe for everyone to ask for help when it is needed.

Allow yourself to ask for help even when it feels uncomfortable. The fear of being judged is not going to kill you. Remember that you are asking for help so that you can do the job better and more efficient. The focus is not on how vulnerable you may feel. Feel your feelings is an important part of your well-being, and we are not ignoring that. If you do not ask for help, no one knows that you are facing difficulties and feel stuck.

Let us promote an environment that encourages people to ask for help when it is needed. Do not hesitate to help others when you can. It is alright to be imperfect. It is alright not to know it all. We are here to learn, grow and become a better version of ourselves.

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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