Good teammates check their egos, says one chief resident

How important is teamwork in health care? More than 70 percent of medical errors are attributable to dysfunctional team dynamics, according to research cited in a 2014 study in Health Care Management Review.

For residents, your role on the health care team is going to evolve and change based on need, but the importance of working as a team player remains constant—not only as a way to ensure high-quality patient care but as a means to self-care during a stressful time.

AMA Wire® recently spoke with Tani Malhotra, MD. Dr. Malhotra is finishing her stint as a chief resident in the ob-gyn program at York Hospital in central Pennsylvania. She offered some insight and advice about how residents should act to ensure their team’s success.

There is no “I” in team. The first thing to appreciate is that, in residency, success is a team achievement.

“The emphasis when you’re a med student is placed on grades and your success. Your success is often measured against other people’s success,” Dr. Malhotra said. “Once you get to residency, it is no longer your success, it’s not about you anymore. ... What matters is how you play on a team. The main thing we worry about is the patient and everyone is working on that same goal, which is patient care.

Related Coverage

Success in residency, romance aren’t mutually exclusive

Stop keeping score. Competition can be healthy, but it’s demoralizing to worry about who got which rotation when.

“It’s easy to feeling like you are doing more of the work than other people,” Dr. Malhotra said. “I’ve seen people feel that way and I remember I did at one point. As I grew and graduated through my years, I realized I was kind of a jerk when I did all that. When people are moved around, it’s dictated by their skill level or ability or what’s requested and sometimes as a junior resident you don’t see that.”

Rely on your fellow residents. You are all trying to succeed together. There’s no harm in asking for a reprieve every once in a while, particularly in the midst of a longer shift.

“As a senior resident it has been easier to get some sleep,”  Dr. Malhotra said. “The juniors aren’t quite as lucky. The junior residents who take call with me—I definitely try to make sure that they get at least some sleep. They all know that if they are exhausted that they can absolutely tell me, ‘Hey, I absolutely cannot carry on. Can you please cover for me?’”

Little things do matter. The small stuff can be what makes a unit successful, and that might not be evident early on. One detail that Dr. Malhotra grew to be a stickler for: the patient list.

“When I started in the program, junior residents were responsible for maintaining the list,” she said. “The senior residents never touched the list but they were very particular. As a junior resident, it was like ‘Come on—why does this matter?’”

“[In a graduation dinner] one of the things that [the other residents] roasted about me was how particular I am about the list. But I rely on the list entirely. I trust you to give me the information because the list is all I have as I round with the attending I want to rely on your telling me about the patient. If you don’t give me the accurate information, which is what’s on the list, then I am, in turn, not able to manage appropriately.”