What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

HarringtonThis line from the movie Cool Hand Luke has entered everyday language when referring to a situation in which one person is trying to dominate another.

In our chosen careers this is also a common problem. All too many of us, while very technically competent, have trouble talking with our bosses, let alone writing a readable report on the technology that we support. This communication problem has its roots in our training. We spend hours learning circuits, components, systems, and math, but take maybe one course in English—often English literature, which does not help us speak or write.

When I was teaching biomed courses I always had the students do presentations on various topics. Many said that they dreaded doing it, but the same ones who dreaded it in class have told me years later that making those presentations probably helped them more in their careers than did many of the technical classes. Basically, in today’s workplace you have to communicate to progress up the career ladder. Those who communicate the best usually go the furthest up that ladder, so get off the step stool.

Even though I no longer teach, every time I make a presentation I try to get those in attendance to express their opinions and share their knowledge. I have done this in more than 40 countries and have found that once you get a biomed talking, he generally has a lot to say. Now, if we can only get you to write for publication.

For some reason biomeds are reluctant to share information with people who are not right in front of them, even phone conversations can be difficult for many. I try to do as much one-on-one as possible when I travel just to learn what is being done in that area and what problems come up, and I try to convey that they are not alone. If biomeds would communicate more it could make their jobs easier and more rewarding. I have heard about too many biomeds “burning out," but I have discovered when talking with them that the majority have “rusted out" instead. By holding in their problems they do not get the relief that they could if only they would communicate. The local biomed associations used to be a great outlet for frustrations and sources of information. Unfortunately, all too many local biomed groups meet only a few times per year and do not offer enough socializing time at the events. One biomed group had a policy that, once per year, each member had to make a 5-minute presentation on what was going on in his hospital or department, with another 5 minutes for questions from other members. There were three presentations per meeting, 30 minutes total. This worked very well for a number of years but was dropped as not “educational” by the group’s new leaders. This group went from 30-plus people per meeting, 10 times per year to about 10 people per meeting twice per year, more if there was free food and booze.

But all is not lost. I am seeing some evidence that some biomeds are speaking out. Unfortunately, it is mostly in the various chat rooms on the Web. One site that recently got my attention is http://wallofshame.home.att.net/. This is a great site to go to just to see the overcharges that we have to contend with daily. It has been very useful to me as I research parts for repairs of high-end devices.

Even in this publication there are far too few articles, letters, or e-mails from biomeds. We need more input from our readers to be sure that the information presented each month is what you want and need. Please share your ideas. Marian is a very easy editor to work with, she reads what you send in and asks others to look it over to be sure that the topic is current and interesting to readers. She makes suggestions on words and phrases, but she doesn’t grade it. There is no report card. Before you know it, you will have been published in a magazine that goes all over the world and is read by more than 10,000 people every month.

Become a contributor. It is a great feeling to be published for the first time, and every time thereafter.

David Harrington, PhD, is director of staff development and training at Technology in Medicine in Holliston, Mass.

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