Marie's Outlook

For the Sake of Credibility, Avoid These DON’Ts!

In 1993, I started helping people attain their IBCLC credential. Over the years, many course attendees have asked me: I’m not a nurse, and I don’t have a college degree. Even after I get my IBCLC certification how will I ever gain credibility with the doctors, the nurses, or anyone?

Having a degree, a license, or any other credential is rarely enough to gain credibility with colleagues. Credibility isn’t something that is bestowed upon a person who holds a credential; it is something that is earned over time. Remember that credibility and trust, although separate, often are perceived as overlapping.

No matter what credentials you have, here are 7 DON’Ts—actions or behaviors that would negatively influence your professional credibility and must be avoided. (In a different post, I give the DOs.) Don’t fall into these traps!

Skip the rants and tirades. Impassioned speeches rarely, if ever, add to your credibility. Have you heard others being called “Nipple Nazis”? Often, that’s because a rant or tirade has made them seem like unbending, self-righteous buffoons.

Ranting on and on about the latest study, or quoting statements such as those from the American Academy of Pediatrics, or reciting an endless litany of benefits of breastfeeding is unlikely to make you sound credible. You’ll risk sounding like you’re just someone with an agenda.

Instead, role-modeling the behavior you’d like to see others do, or earning clients’ gratefulness for what you’ve taught are better routes to credibility.

Don’t malign or belittle the physician. Maligning, belittling, or criticizing the physician is rude, and detracts from your credibility or professionalism. Yet, most of us feel compelled to be a patient advocate. Rather than undermining the doctor, try to stay focused on the goal, and help the mother and her health care provider learn from the situation and get the desired outcomes.

I like to begin with something like, “Mrs. A says you told her that Drug X is incompatible with breastfeeding. Understandably, she is disappointed, but I’m finding it difficult to explain to her why that’s necessary. Can you help me to understand why you felt the risks outweighed the benefits in this situation?” By opening a dialogue, you may find some good opportunities to add to the doctor’s knowledge base. At the same time, you’re advocating for the client.

Stop flaunting your credentials. I’m serious! Going out of your way to make yourself seem “more” qualified conveys the implication that others are “less” qualified. Early in my career, was surprised to find many doctors who had multiple certifications and advanced degrees, but didn’t use them on their name tag or lab coat.Then, as now, I follow their lead. I have a very simple name tag on my lab coat, reading M. Biancuzzo RN. It’s the only credential I need to do my job. I’m not suggesting that you do as I do. But I am forewarning you that thick alphabet soup after your name is highly unlikely to increase your credibility; instead, it may set you up for a we-them situation.

Avoid creating we-them situations. We-them situations arise when RNs who are IBCLCs begin to boss around other RNs, or when non-RNs try to show they are more “qualified” than RNs. Beware of your behavior. I recently visited a hospital where there was a major schism between the staff RNs and the RN-IBCLCs. In truth, the RN staff—while less than perfect—did a remarkably good job of teaching and supporting breastfeeding, yet the RN-IBCLCs said and did things that other RNs found offensive.

If you find yourself openly criticizing the staff for how they manage a case, locking up the nipple shields in your office, or telling the nurse manager every time the RN staff doesn’t follow the breastfeeding policy to the letter, maybe you should ask yourself if you’re creating a we-them situation. Instead, try to develop strategies for working together on mutual goals, rather than focusing on specific credentials.

Don’t make up words or abbreviations. Be sure to use words or abbreviations in ways that they are used among mainstream healthcare professionals. I cringe when I read a bit of documentation saying that the baby was given BM. No, in the healthcare world, “BM” is “bowel movement.” And, if you meant “breast milk,” that term is entirely imprecise! I encourage you to write “mother’s milk” (or “donor milk,” if that is what is being given).

Be careful talking about “evidence-based practice.” Much of the “evidence” that people tell me about is mindless, groundless published dribble, not actual evidence. And, if it is actual evidence, you should know the level of evidence it represents, and read the study yourself. Otherwise, if someone challenges you on the study, you’ll be unable to defend yourself. Don’t throw the buzzwords around. There’s nothing that kills credibility more than pretending you know what something is when, in fact, you don’t.

Don’t bring your personal issues to work. Nothing says “unprofessional” like “too personal.” Sure, if your mother dies or your child gets hit by a drunk driver, sure, even the most detached colleague will accept your need for support. But no one wants to hear about your fight with your significant other, your new tattoo, or your trip to the beach.

We all have our ups and downs, but nothing says “unprofessional” more than bring your personal issues to the workplace.

Don’t look like a kid. As the old saying goes, “dress for success.” I can’t believe I’m even writing this, since it seems like common sense: a professional “look” conveys a professional “persona.” But I distinctly remember one staff RN who arrived every morning on our high-risk antepartum floor wearing a sweatshirt, sweat pants, and dirty sneakers. Maybe that woman had the best clinical skills in the hospital; I don’t know. I could never get past the lazy appearance.

Don’t act like a loser. Some years ago, someone posted at the nurse’s station a short list of advice about winners and losers. I don’t recall all of the points, but two stand out: Don’t complain about the problem; try to find a solution and Don’t insist “That’s not my job”; ask “How can I help?” (Here’s a similar list of directives.)

Does this winner/loser stuff seem like common sense? Well, yeah, it is. But day after day of using “winner” strategies is a sure way to prevent yourself from acting like a “loser” (and losing credibility in the process).

Did any of this resonate for you? If so, let me hear from you in the comments below. Maybe share it with some newbies!

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