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The Assertive Patient

By CARE Fertility on December 12, 2013

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At CARE, our staff is trained to use a clear, direct communication style to help our patients.  I would like to share this information with you, the patient, so that you will have the skills you need to effectively communicate with physicians, nurses, and other staff members.  

Basically, there are three distinct patterns or styles of communication:  Passive, Assertive, and Aggressive.  Individuals whom are passive tend to be compliant, submissive, and very unclear about their wants or needs.  They tend to not ask questions and go along with the desires of others to avoid conflict.  At the other extreme, people who have an aggressive communication style tend to be sarcastic, harsh, critical individuals who may yell, point fingers, throw objects and generally treat others in a disrespectful, patronizing manner.  The assertive style, however, allows expression of feelings and needs in a firm but polite manner that does not threaten the personal or emotional integrity of the other person.  Some speak of a fourth style, being passive-aggressive, which is really a form of aggressiveness.  Instead of being "in your face," the passive-aggressive individual outwardly appears to be nice and cooperative but acts out his/her anger in subtle ways.  For example, a department store clerk "forgets" to apply a discount when checking out a rude customer.

So how does this apply to your treatment at CARE?  For starters, infertility treatment is very time-consuming and very stressful.  Unlike other medical specialties, infertility patients have to absorb and assimilate a ton of new information at each visit.  If you have not experienced some degree of frustration yet, you are in the minority.  Also, emotions run high because of the nature of our business -- we are, after all, in the business of helping to create babies.  While an aspect of this is very uplifting and exciting, there is also an element of loss and anguish when things do not go as anticipated.  Thus, being able to be the "assertive patient," will serve you well in many respects.  Think back when someone, perhaps a boss or teacher, yelled at you about something you did.  Do you remember how you felt?  If you're like most people, it did not feel good, and you probably began to shut down.  When you lose your temper with an office worker or nurse, that person has a hard time staying focused on what you are trying to communicate.  When attacked, most of us shut down and just want to either flee (end the conversation) or have the urge to counterattack.  This is not the response you want to create in people who are helping you to create your family!  But you don't have to just ignore your feelings either.  This is where the advantage of the assertiveness style comes into play.  It allows you to express how you feel and discuss what you need in a way that is respectful toward the other person.  And guess what?  When people are nice to me, I feel like being nice and helpful to them.  I want to help them no matter what it takes.  When someone yells at me, rolls their eyes, and throws down a pencil on my desk -- well, not so much.  Result?  You do not get what you need, and bad feelings are created.

Let's go through an example to drive the point home.  Say you've left two messages for a nurse to call you back, and you are beginning to panic about whether or not you are taking the right dose of a medication.  You feel angry, frustrated and worried.    Here is an assertive way of communicating your feelings and needs in a direct, clear manner.

Patient call to front office:  "I am Dr. Kathy's patient and I really need to speak directly to a nurse.  I am confused about the dose of a medication that I'm supposed to start taking this evening.  I've left several messages, and I'm very frustrated that nobody has called me back.  I am so worried about taking the wrong dose.  Please, will you locate a nurse to answer my question?"

You are clear about your feelings.  You are clear about what you want to happen.  You are respectful of the other person and do not take out your anger on them.  This is the style of communication that will get the results you want. 

As a health psychologist, I often counsel patients on how to be more assertive in interacting with their healthcare team.  If I can be of assistance to you, please call for an appointment today!

Dr. McBride

CARE Psychologist

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