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Can You Be Yourself in Medicine?

Why it is important to ask yourself "Am I really 'me' at work?"

I recently went to a ‘Better Conversations’ evening in Bristol organised partly by the clever folks at Making Stuff Better ( where a group of strangers from a range of backgrounds asked each other and discussed: “Can you really be yourself in Business?” Reflecting on what we discussed and considering it in relation to the hospital environment, what I took away was that there is something about the authenticity, vulnerability and honesty that comes with being yourself at work that means not only that we can be ourselves, but that we should be.

So I guess maybe ask yourself: “are you really ‘you’ at work?” And if not, it may be worth thinking about why not. Clearly in healthcare we have important professional roles and privileged responsibilities that come with looking after people when they are vulnerable. So in both clinical and non-clinical hospital environments there are times when it may be appropriate to be more ‘ourselves’ than others. My penchant for terrible cheese jokes, for example, needs to be suppressed at times. But overall the key is whether we feel that we are being genuine and honest enough about who we are when the door closes at home and opens in the hospital. This wont be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have made it this far, perhaps consider 4 reasons why really being yourself in medicine is worth doing if you are not already.

1. Good for Patient Care

As healthcare staff (especially as doctors I think) when we show patients and families who we are they feel comfortable with us because they can see that we are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends, human beings and not clones or automated systems without feelings. I am not arguing that we should dispense with certain professional behaviours or that it is helpful to expose all of our vulnerabilities all of the time to our patients. But bringing our personality and our humanity to patient care can be powerful and allowing ourselves to be honest about who we are with those for whom we are caring can engender trust, empathy and a more positive patient/carer relationship. That has certainly been my experience as both a doctor and a patient.

2. Makes for Better Teams

In emergency medicine, our teams are at their best when colleagues can rely on and trust each other, when they work efficiently, when they share a vision and work towards a common goal, when they respect each other and when they care for each other’s wellbeing. These core components rely heavily on human factors and, whilst following algorithms for emergencies is important, we know that the ‘human’ part of optimal team function is integral to its success. Certainly there are times when modifying our innate behaviours is helpful, necessary even, especially in serious emergencies. But overall, I would argue that when we are genuine and allow ourselves to be who we are at work, colleagues will recognise and respect this and the whole team and its performance will benefit.

3. Sets the Most Positive Tone

Most people want to work in an environment where they can be true to their core beliefs and values. When we feel able to show vulnerability and to be honest about who we are this can set a hugely important tone for the wider team and the institution. It can serve as positive role model behaviour for others as well as encouraging a culture of openness, discussion, creativity and compassion. Authentic behaviour and signs that ‘it’s ok to be yourself’ at work coming from senior clinical staff have the potential to profoundly influence junior members of the team and to shape an ethos for good.

4. Makes You Happy

Last but by no means least is the effect that being true to who we are in the workplace can have on our happiness, our psychological wellbeing and our mental health. The feeling of putting on an act or not being true to ourselves on a regular basis in the work environment can have a significant detrimental effect on self perception and feelings relating to identity, meaning, self esteem and satisfaction. Conversely bringing the best parts of our personality and our life experience to where we work has the potential to create real growth in self-confidence and can lead to sustained feelings of happiness and contentment that will encompass all aspects of our lives including both our home and family lives as well as the significant amount of time spent at work.

Dr Dan Magnus

Consultant in Paediatric Emergency Medicine, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, UK


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