Mastering Change in the RT Workplace

image of arrows showing change pointing left old way and pointing right new way

If there is one constant in the world, it is that nothing remains constant. Things are changing all the time, and as human beings, we have no choice but to change right along with them.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. And according to long-time RT consultant Garry Kauffman, MPA, RRT, FAARC, it’s especially hard in health care.

“It has been reported that health care is one of the most change-resistant organizations,” he said. “In fact, several studies have indicated that new processes take anywhere from 14-16 years to become implemented.”

So does that mean RTs don’t need to worry about doing anything differently? While there are plenty of therapists (and physicians and nurses and other health care professionals too) who would love for that to be the case, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Because despite change-resistance, change is going to happen, and the folks driving change (think thought-leaders in clinical care, administrators with their eye on the bottom line, and government regulators) will be looking more favorably on those who facilitate change than those who try to avoid it.

Avoiding the lost-lose situation

Kauffman puts it clearly: “Being seen as not willing to embrace change could very well create a stigma that you, as the RT leader, and/or your staff RTs, are interested in the status quo rather than exploring ‘what could be.'”

He recalls working with one multi-hospital system a few years ago that illustrates the point. In meetings with RT department directors from those hospitals, he says he could see within one meeting who would be willing to change and who wouldn’t. Those observations played out when he spent “scrub time” observing staff in the various facilities. Those with managers resistant to change were resistant themselves.

That’s a lose-lose situation if there ever was one, says Kauffman, noting it reminds him of a quote by General Eric Shinseki: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

Heading in the opposite direction and embracing change is significantly more helpful to your career.

“Being recognized as a willing and able change agent can pay big dividends with your reputation within your organization and will increase both your visibility and value,” said Kauffman.

Tips for a mindset adjustment

Kauffman believes RTs can change their own mindset about change by following these tips —

  • Secure a mentor: By ‘mentor,’ I don’t mean someone who is necessarily older than you and has had more experiences. What I do mean is someone who not only has the skills to mentor but has the aptitude and willingness to invest the time with you to develop. Skilled mentors not only provide the information, but they understand your learning style, appreciate your commitment, and will collaborate with you to keep you on track to achieve your goal.
  • Make a budget: Budget both the time and the resources to help develop your knowledge and skills. By ‘budget,’ I mean hard-wire your professional and personal calendars and stick to it. We all know about New Year’s resolutions and how many fail by the time the snow melts. What we all need to do to be change agents is to commit 100%. We also need to invest the financial resources to secure the information needed in our development. While there are many materials available online, there is a reason that quality information has a price tag. To quote Warren Buffet: “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”
  • Stick to It: Nothing comes easy, at least in my experience, and it’s important that we adjust as we meet challenges and barriers. We need to be nimble in our learning and make adjustments not just to meet a deadline or milestone but to continue to improve our knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Do’s and don’ts

Once you’ve gotten over your fear of change, how can you keep yourself from backsliding and instead use it to your best advantage in your career? Kauffman has some do’s and don’ts for that too —

  • Don’t allow your conduct, behaviors, and attitudes to define you as someone resistant to change. We’ve all heard the old saw when someone is questioned why they do it that way: because we’ve always done it that way. Nothing brands you as resistant to change quicker than this response.
  • Do conduct yourself consistently as someone open to change. And do ask the question: What if we tried this? What would it look like if we changed this process? Could we change our staffing scheme to better align our staff with patient needs?
  • Don’t hang around with a “bad crowd” (i.e., those resistant to change). Whether we like it or not, we are defined in part by those with whom we associate. When I am working with an RT director or senior executive on an initiative, I take note of who hangs with whom and what they are talking about.
  • Do invest your personal time to associate with the “movers and shakers,” and I don’t mean executives only. Make time to spend with leaders of other disciplines/departments to learn from them about changes they made. You might discover that the new process that the imaging department initiated might also work for your department.
  • Don’t underestimate who’s looking at you, not only in a particular case but in making an overall judgment on your future role/value to the organization.
  • Do consider that every decision you make, every change that you support, and every change you initiate will increase your visibility and your value.
  • Don’t think that your present position that you love will be there in the future. When I consult with hospitals and health systems, I always ask the question of each leader: what’s the one thing you would change to improve the operations of your organization? So when I see a person who suggests changing the organizational chart, even if this change could lead to eliminating their position, I know that this is the change agent that understands the big picture.
  • Do be the person who is willing to put everything on the line, including your position, to better the organization. In my experience, the person who is willing to suggest eliminating their current position is the one who always secures a position that ultimately is better for them and the organization.

Make it count

The key, says Garry Kauffman, is to stop thinking of change as something that’s done solely for the purpose of change.

“We should be investing in ourselves, our RT colleagues, and our professional organizations to change on behalf of the patients, families, and communities we serve,” he said.

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