The patients like the old employee better

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I read your article “8 Ways to Stop a Coworker From Sabotaging Your Reputation,” so I decided to e-mail you about a situation that has been bugging me for over a year now. I am an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), and I was hired in a very tiny private physician office in June 2012.

The office consists of an older physician and the office manager who answers the phones, keeps records, and does billing. I’m the only nurse in the office, and I replaced a girl who was a medical assistant (with no certification, I might add). After I was hired, I learned that the girl I’d replaced had been here for 8 years and was the office manager’s daughter-in-law. She left for what she’d said were personal reasons, but she also lived in a small town approximately an hour away from the office, so I assumed at the time that her leaving was due to the drive.

Throughout the next few months, things were rough for me, because patients were used to the old medical assistant and expected to see her when they came in for their visits. They sort of looked at me like an impostor, and many of the women especially (we all know how women can be) were unwilling to get used to me. Well, I found out that the office manager, whose husband had passed away shortly before her daughter-in-law had left, had an issue with depression and tends to lash out at people. I found this out, because she went through a major depressive episode and was lashing out at our boss, who is the nicest man I think I’ve ever met.

She then started to do the same to me. She attempted to pick small fights with me over very petty things, and at first, I simply spoke to our boss about it who sympathized and explained her situation with her late husband. I decided to “kill her with kindness” and just let things go and continued to be nice. That was until she started telling patients that her daughter-in-law wants to come back because she is bored being at home and misses the patients.

Now, patients are actually trying to tell the doctor that they miss the other girl and that he should let her come back. A few days ago, I brought this up to him, and he said he didn’t want her back and that I’m an actual LPN, licensed to do things that she couldn’t do, and I’m also very good with computers and have saved him a few hundred dollars on computer repairs by doing everything myself (networking, repairs on his laptop, etc). But when patients keep coming up to him saying this woman has told them that the other girl wants to come back and he won’t let her, that’s really scary to me. I don’t want to lose my job, but I’m almost ready to throw in the towel and just say, “If you want her back, then take her back. I’ll find another job.”

Any advice?

Boy, I’ve never been attached enough to the staff at my doctor’s office to care much about the staff. Blessings of good health! But, let’s break this down a bit. You’re dealing with 3 characters.

1. The goodhearted doctor

2. The angry, depressed, recently widowed office manager, whose daughter-in-law abandoned her at work.

3. The former medical assistant, who may or may not want to come back. Her mother-in-law says so, and it may be true. Or it may be wishful thinking on mother-in-law’s part.

So, the nicest doctor in the world is giving the recently widowed office manager a bit of slack on how she treats the new nurse and what she says to the patients. He, understandably, wants to give her some space. Note, when you’ve gone to him, he’s said flat out that he doesn’t want the old medical assistant back because you’re a licensed LPN, and good with computers. Win for you! (Also evidence that gaining a few skills out of your core job requirements can pay off.)

But, nice isn’t good when it allows someone to undermine you, which is what the office manager is doing. I totally get it. You are not her daughter-in-law. It’s highly possible that the daughter-in-law does desperately want her job back. Often, the grass is greener until you actually get closer and find out it’s not. After all, the doctor is super nice and the patients did love her. It’s not unrealistic.

But, the good doctor needs to speak up. He needs to tell the office manager to knock it off. Getting him to, though is going to be difficult. Why? Because it’s hard and it sounds mean to tell a woman who is missing not only her former coworker but her daughter-in-law and who is recently widowed (yes, 18 months is still recent if she wants it to be) that she needs to shut her mouth, but that is what needs to happen.

So, you go to the kind hearted doctor and say, “Dr. Jones, I’m concerned about Office Manager. She is still telling the patients about how Jane wants to come back and you won’t let her, and because Jane was fabulous, the patients are upset by this. I’m really concerned about how this is affecting your practice. Also, I don’t know quite what to say when patients say things to me. After all, I want to be polite, but I love my job!”

He’s got to deal with it. You probably can’t do much more than be polite with the office manager, although I suggest getting to know her better. Ask her about her husband and her son (and other children if she has them) and about the daughter-in-law. You can even sympathize with her. “It must have been fabulous to work with your own daughter-in-law!”

And the patients? You’ve got to be awesome and sympathize with them as well. When they complain about Jane’s absence say, “I hear so many fabulous things about her! Tell me what she did to make your visits great and I’ll do my best to emulate her.” And then do what you need to do to make the patients develop that bond with you.

I suspect you may not be as warm and fuzzy as your predecessor–especially with your line about how some women are. Oh yes, I know precisely how some women are. We all know how some women are. But, it’s imperative that every female patient doesn’t think that YOU think she’s in that “some women” category.

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4 thoughts on “The patients like the old employee better

  1. If the doctor can’t stand up to the office manager, he won’t stand up to you either. You may wish to follow the advice of Evil HR Lady and get along with her. Or you may simply tell her in private to back off because you won’t put up with her crap. What’s she going to do about it?

    HR Lady’s advice on how to communicate with the patients is excellent. You can’t kill the office manager with kindness because she has her own agenda. But you can manage the patients quite effectively by telling them how much you love your job and your patients (that is, them).

  2. I also noticed the line about “”how some women are.” Also, the “unwilling to get used to me.”

    Here’s the deal, they’ll never get used to you unless you treat them well. You need to kill THE PATIENTS with kindness. Suzanne’s advice is excellent. But, also be patient, respectful (no condescending tone of voice, for instance, or rumblings about patients making excuses about things, etc.), and a fountain of information respectfully, kindly and clearly provided. When something is difficult for a patient, sympathize, and when you can and the patient is receptive, explain what is going on and why it’s necessary.

    And above all, remember, your job is always about the patients. It’s your job to cater to them, not theirs to adjust to you.

  3. Everyone’s right about the words I used in my letter. I might have been a touch dramatic with that. I need to clear a few things up, however: First, I love my patients. Probably 90% of them adjusted very well to me, and since it’s been almost 2 years since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know them, and I adore them. I’ve had several opportunities to go elsewhere to make more money, etc, but I do love my job here, and I’m a very loyal person.

    The problems with my co-worker are not significant enough to actually make or break my job or my relationship with the doctor. He did actually talk to her last week, because she had a melt-down in the office and she was rude to everyone the whole day and left the office very upset. The next day, they talked in his office for quite a while, and when she came out, she was a lot nicer to me. Well, not exactly “nice” but civil, when previously she could be down-right rude and petty (for instance, one day she nagged me about the shredder being full, so when I went to empty it and start shredding things, she was talking to a drug rep and looked right at me and said “Hold on a moment. I can’t hear over the shredder!” or when I went to empty the trash can near my desk, she would wait until I just pulled the old bag out before she would dump a bunch of garbage in the can without a bag in it.)

    Everyone so far is right, though. The patients come first. I need to get along with her. The doctor made it clear to both of us, though, that he will not put up with this anymore and we need to work it out.

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