Healthcare Culture: Why So Serious?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered quite a few…shall we say…prudish folks in Healthcare. For the most part, doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists, administrators, caseworkers, etc. have healthy senses of humor and don’t take themselves so seriously.

Still, there is a culture – or at least subculture – of people involved in healthcare who do in fact take the whole proposition of healthcare too seriously.

I understand: “healthcare is about saving lives, which is serious business, so we must take it seriously.

Here’s the flaw – and the danger – in that line of reasoning: being serious is not the same as being responsible.

Being serious is an emotional state. It’s not really a call to action. And quite often it’s a set-up for anger.

This happens quite often in nursing, and explains why there is so much “eating of the young” and lateral emotional violence. Neither of which would be tolerated by Cultures of Responsibility.

This happens in hospital administration, and explains in part why we have genocidal acquired infections rates. All those serious attitudes about safety and reimbursement and cost-reduction crowd out the very acceptance of responsibility which would more effectively address those three problems.

Being responsible is not about oneself: it’s a frame of mind which is focused on assessing the surrounding, understanding what needs to be done and taking the right actions.

Being serious, ultimately, is about unleashing anger and blame at someone – not solving problems.

Huge difference between these two words.

And yet, I think that the pervasiveness of Serious in healthcare has caused quite a bit of trouble. It creates stress. It fails to notice things outside the scope of the object of its focus and it just might explain why an iPhone can instill panic.

This difference is key to working in social media, as well as general healthcare communications and marketing.

It’s easier to be serious than it is to be responsible.

Anybody can be serious.

It takes a professional to be responsible.

@PhilBaumann@HealthIsSocialGet the Newsletter


0 Replies to “Healthcare Culture: Why So Serious?”

  1. Phil,

    Your ink took a complex and important topic and spelled in out in a way that was short and easy to grasp. In an age when none of us have extra time, I appreciate learning in a “New York minute.”

    I’m struck by your use: Cultures of Responsibility.
    I think/believe #HCSM, #MDchat #RNchat have been nurtured and tended by you and others who have demonstrated a Culture of Responsibility.

    These two sentences are powerful Phil.

    Anybody can be serious.

    It takes a professional to be responsible.

    Now, how do we define a professional?


    P.S. On a responsible note: Serious folks can be such”Killjoys.”

    1. Thanks, Lisa

      I think we can define ‘professional’ broadly in this instance: someone who is both focused and open-minded in using their experience to solve problems and to care for others.

      Professionals don’t get caught up in themselves, don’t identify themselves with the problems they’re trying to solve and don’t get sucked in to their disappointments when it comes to people or systems not doing what they’re supposed to do.


  2. This is excellent!!!! I’d only like to add that the culture of responsibility applies to patients and patient advocates as well. I’m all for vigorous debate but holy cow, some of the discussion gets so rigid and ideological it reminds me of the feminist movement some of us lived through in the 70s. Some of those women were a little short on humor, at least of the intentional kind. (Exhibit A: substituting “womyn” for “women.” As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.) Humor can be a great educational tool. I think responsibility also involves respect, and that seems to be in short supply among some of us as well.

    1. Hi Jackie!

      Yes, good comparison.

      Sometimes, in the course of working against bad systems, new ideologies forget why the movement started in the first place. So they can, ironically, create their own immutable laws and prejudices and misunderstandings. The can end up replacing one rigid dogma with another and then advancement slows or breaks down.

      …I do have to say, I have noticed increasing expression by nurses & doctors & others about the state of affairs in how people treat each other.

  3. Good point. The funny thing is when this culture of serious carries over to social media. It just doesn’t mix very well.

    Reminds me of the story where a nurse, Sarah Beth RN, was checking her iPhone to remember the normal value of a certain lab associated with a patient’s heart condition. She quickly pulled up the information on her iPhone. Turns out a “very Florence Nightingale nurse” saw her do this and told her “Sarah, you need to put your phone away while working. It really looks bad, and not to mention you are not focused on patient care.”

    Yes, we have a little ways to go on the culture of healthcare.

    1. Hi John

      Yes, it’s a very serious problem 😉

      I just think there’s so a long history behind healthcare that has made it be this way.

      Modern medicine does have its origins in the military (that’s where “Doctor’s Orders” came from – docs were officiers: if you didn’t carry out the order, you could be court-marshaled).

      But change is coming.

      Sarah’s post definitely encapsulated one of the main problems – as well as the cultural gaps that need closing.


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