The Situationist

The Situation of Preoperative Care

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 17, 2008

Sam Sommers, a social psychologist at Tufts University, has a nice post over on Psych Today on the elusive power of daily situations (and we appreciate his nice words!). His post delves into his situation while he was in pre-op. Here are some excerpts.

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I have to admit, by this point I am getting a bit nervous. Mind you, everyone’s just doing their jobs, and doing so in a courteous manner at that. The nurse was friendly and reassuring; the anaesthesia folks spoke in terms that were clear and accessible to a layperson. But various aspects of this situation now have me feeling pretty uncomfortable and even a bit spooked. I’m in an unfamiliar place, I’m making decisions about medical issues about which I know very little in consultation with people I’ve never met before, and did I mention that I’m still naked under an uncomfortable gown whose status remains anything but secure?

My guess is these are aspects of this situation that the physicians and nurses with whom I was interacting paid no attention. But to me, the room, my dress, the sudden appearance of an anesthesiologist who wants to discuss the small risk of permanent nerve damage three seconds after introducing himself and shaking my splint… this is what transformed my disposition from blasé to anxious.

A few days after the procedure, I recounted my experience to my father-in-law, a neurologist who practices in Boston and teaches at Harvard. He told me that whenever he’s asked to give a talk to graduating medical students or new residents, he always tells them that one of the best things that can happen to them professionally is to get sick. Not a serious illness, of course, but enough to get them struggling to book a timely appointment, wrestling with the insurance company, sitting too long in waiting rooms, and just generally getting a refresher on what being a patient is all about.

I think it’s great advice, and certainly not just for health care professionals. It’s useful for those of us who work as professors to once again experience what it’s like to be a student in a lecture course. For psychologists to experience an hour as a patient. For the customer service representative to spend 30 minutes on hold. Without such experiences, or at the very least imagining such experiences, it’s far too easy to lose sight of the situational factors that influence the people with whom we interact during the course of doing our jobs.

As we know from decades of research in social psychology, many of us are far too inattentive to the power of the situation in our daily interactions. (For a great blog that explores the scope and implications of this tendency as it applies to varied domains such as law, politics, business, and more, check out The Situationist.) And it seems as if this tendency is only magnified when we operate within the comfortable confines of our own professional worlds.

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For the rest of the post, click here. For some related Situationist posts, see “The Racial Situation of Pain Relief,” “Unlevel Playing Fields: From Baseball Diamonds to Emergency Rooms,” and “Infant Death Rates in Mississippi.”

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