On the daily, your main focus is on patient outcomes and experience. But, if you're a teaching institution, you have another aspect of your mission — education.
It's a critical part of health care's medical mission, but the specific requirements for education can sometimes get muddled when you're racing to treat patients as quickly and efficiently as possible, said Kim Todd, radiography program director for Jackson State Community College in Jackson, TN at the 2017 AHRA annual meeting.
"One of the most problematic things for administrators isn't policy or factual issues. That's not what gives you headaches," Todd said. "It's the human relations piece of your job."
Mainly, she said, it’s communication that presents the biggest problems, and they often arise between your technologists and students assigned to your facility. In many instances, she said, technologists aren't aware of the educational expectations that are part of their job. Either they're unaware of all they're asked to provide for students or they expect the students to work outside of what their school will allow.
"Technologists are frustrated frequently because they don't get clear communication or expectations from leadership about their responsibilities with students," she said. "There's no clear definition of the needs."
Needs and expectations do vary by school, but some tenets are universal. Make sure your technologists know they must provide students with a wide variety of experiences, and they must abide by school limitations. For example, she said, students aren't allowed to work solo with patients in many instances. Your technologists must be aware of what those situations are.
Additionally, clearly explain the supervisory role to your technologists. A significant part of this job is being sure they can communicate effectively with and relay educational knowledge to your students.
Your educational mission will go smoothly if your technologists and students are aware of the barriers that can pop up to de-rail the transfer of knowledge.
There are common communication mistakes that can negatively impact the quality of the educational environment your facility provides, Todd said.
Discuss these barriers with your technologists and your students to ensure the best experience for everyone.
1. Attitudes: Remind everyone they are both teachers and learners. A technologist's years of experience doesn’t mean he or she can't learn something new from a student. An attitude of superiority can be off-putting and create a wall that prevents effective transfer of knowledge. Be open to what students say and guide them with knowledge and kindness, she said.
2. Status differences: Avoid operating your facility like a strict hierarchy. Creating that type of division can make it difficult for students to approach your technologists with questions and concerns. But, it can also make it hard for your technologists to come to you.
3. Emotions: Work disagreements are sometimes unavoidable, but bad outcomes from them aren't, Todd said. Educate your technologists to step back and resume conversations at a later time if they feel themselves getting angry or frustrated. Taking time to cool off could give them the chance to see the problem from the student's or other technologist's perspective.
4. Bias: Frequently, Todd said, students are surprised to find they have inherent biases toward various groups of people. They only discover these biases exist when they begin working with patients, such as those who are overweight, and it can affect their communication style. To help students overcome this opinion, your technologists should openly discuss the best ways to work with patients who might present difficulties to the job.
5. Lack of attention: Multi-tasking creates a hot-bed of distraction. If your technologist or the student aren't concentrating fully on the task at-hand during the instructional process, they could convey and receive the wrong messages.
6. Generational differences: The age gap between working technologists and students is widening, and the generations have distinctly different communication styles. This age divide can make it tough for these two groups to communicate clearly.
7. Non-verbal communication: Providers and technologists are educated about nonverbal communication with patients, but those same messages should apply to technologist-student relationships, as well. Educate them both to avoid sighing, putting their hands on their hips, or engaging in any nonverbal behaviors that can give off a negative impression. These gestures can make communication difficult, Todd said.
Ways to Improve
There are a few things you can do to actively improve how your technologists educate and work with students placed in your charge, she said.
1. Create a mission statement: This statement doesn't have to be long and complicated. Clearly state the expectations you have for how your technologists will educate students. For it to be effective, you'll need to get buy-in from those affected.
2. Surveys & Evaluations: To make sure you're properly educating the next generation of technologists conduct surveys and evaluations. Ask both groups what the program is doing right and what could be improved when it comes to communicating information.
3. Provide resources & workshops: Create resources and workshops that help your technologists and students learn proper communication skills. This can also be a good way to relay the expectations of both your institution and the student's school.
Overall, she said, remember that creating smooth communication between technologists and students largely falls to administration.
"It is your role as an administrator to influence employee understanding of trainee capabilities," she said. "Be sure you're doing what you can to provide this type of environment."