Trust Is a Curious Thing:
How to Forge Partnerships through Interdepartmental Interviews
It’s lunchtime. You’re in the hospital cafeteria, taking a much-deserved break from the path lab. Your morning was challenging, to say the least.
You spent it going back and forth on email and over the phone about test results with a pediatric oncologist. The patient is a child you know personally. The diagnosis is tragic.
It’s a difficult time.
You look up. The oncologist just happens to be next to you in the lunch line. You consider greeting her with a brief smile or perhaps a sympathetic nod acknowledging your shared rough morning.
Nothing more. No discussion. Just discretion and professional courtesy. You figure you both could use some time away from tragedy.
It’s perfectly understandable.
But eminently regrettable.
- Curiosity is the first step to engaging clinical colleagues outside the lab for improving patient care
- Interviewing interdepartmental colleagues—either in the moment or more formally—fosters a deeper understanding of their needs and concerns
- From understanding comes trust, a valuable currency in relational healthcare that goes a long way to differentiating your lab
Contributing Lab Leaders
Jeff Myers, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of Anatomic Pathology and MLabs; Vice Chair, Clinical Affairs and Quality, University of Michigan; ADASP President
Julia Dahl, M.D.
CEO and Medical Director
An opportunity to connect compassionately
It’s regrettable because there’s an opportunity here you don’t want to miss. Namely, to connect with your clinical partner in a way that deepens your professional relationship, builds trust and strengthens overall patient care.
Dr. Jeff Myers, Director of Anatomic Pathology and MLabs and Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs and Quality at the University of Michigan, embraced the opportunity when faced with this very situation.
Instead of a quick nod or a clipped reference to a tough morning, Dr. Myers asked the oncologist a genuine, compassionate, open-ended question.
The answer he received gave him a glimpse into his clinical colleague’s world. And it pointed to how, as a consulting pathologist, he could become a part of the healing process, even under such tragic circumstances.
More than a momentary question
Dr. Myers’ story is an example of making the most of a sad yet serendipitous moment. It can also be characterized as a spontaneous interview one colleague conducted with another.
Yes, an interview. Dr. Myers asked a question of the oncologist. His inquiry elicited a detailed response. He listened attentively to that response and learned from it. It heightened his empathy for the oncologist and fostered trust between the two colleagues.
Interviewing clinical colleagues—either in the moment or in a more deliberate, intentional manner—is a great way for you to do the same.
First, be curious
It’s simple, really. Start by being curious about what’s going on outside your lab. About the wants, needs, desires, frustrations, and challenges of your hospital partners. Everyone in your lab should feel this curiosity, from administrators to medical technicians, blood bankers to clinical supervisors. And act upon it.
Go see physicians and nurses. Get out so you don’t get shut out. In other words, go to their offices, the hospital common areas, on rounds if you can. Understand their world and how to best serve them from their perspective.
For more ideas on how to build trusting relationships
with clinical colleagues, read
"Walking a Mile” in 11 Simple Steps and Stimulating Partnerships With a "Random Coffee."
Ask questions from the beginning
Here’s a model you can follow. Put your curiosity into action by conducting interdepartmental interviews between your lab and the hospital you’ll be serving. It’s a great way to ensure new relationships start strong, as Dr. Julia Dahl, CEO and Medical Director for Mosaic Prime, shows us.
A few years ago, Dr. Dahl and her team were responding to a request for proposal (RFP) from a new hospital group. Intent on winning the business, they proactively set up interviews with the chairperson of each department at the hospital. Their goal was to genuinely understand the hospital’s needs and design a pathology service to meet those needs.
So they asked each and every hospital department chair a series of top-level, blank-slate questions, such as:
• If you could design a pathology service yourself, what would it look like?
• What do you value most from your partners in pathology?
• What frustrates you most about them?
• What type of responsiveness are you looking for in a pathology service?
• What is your greatest hope for your relationship with pathology?
The answers to these questions served as a baseline for the type of pathology service Dr. Dahl and her team would build for the hospital. Shortly after the initial interviews, they followed up with inquiries about process and workflow.
“It was important for me that they understand who we are, as pathologists and as service providers. I wanted them to know that we were going to engage in a relationship with them, and not just as physicians. We wanted to know what the workflow was like for their teams.”
A winning strategy
Dr. Dahl’s rigorous efforts paid off. Her pathology group won a multi-year contract with the hospital, but you wouldn’t find them holed up in their laboratory doing victory dances. Instead, they upped the trust quotient through transparency. They continued getting out of the lab, connecting with colleagues at all levels, and building on the relationships they’d already established.
On the value of knowing people by name
Introverts excel at interviews
If you’re an introvert, you might be put off by the prospect of leaving the laboratory to ask questions of relative strangers. But know this: Introverts can master the interdepartmental interview. In fact, they often excel at it. Here’s why:
Preparation is key—introverts tend to prepare very carefully; do so by bringing a short list of open-ended questions and your listening ear
Focus on them, not you—people who don’t hog the limelight are able to listen more attentively
Patience fosters trust—outgoing folks may jump in immediately to address points and solve challenges; those who take their time and “sleep on it” are often more effective at building trust
Technique is everything
During interviews like the ones Dr. Dahl conducted, the goal is to keep quiet and get your colleagues talking. Open-ended questions help you do that.
That’s because open-ended questions can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” They are, by nature, thought provoking. They encourage detailed answers from respondents. They allow interviewers to step back and listen attentively. They can uncover relevant, actionable insights.
Asking open-ended questions is a simple interview technique any laboratorian can adopt. They will help you collect vital information, understand the needs of your colleagues, and act in a way that meets those needs. This can enhance the value of your lab in the eyes of the clinicians you serve.
Can you answer a few questions—about questions?
Which of the following are smart examples of open-ended questions to ask during interdepartmental interviews? See if you can identify the right ones.
From curiosity to a currency of trust
People know when you really care about them. Being curious about your clinical colleagues leads to a genuine understanding of what they need from your lab. Trust emerges from such understanding. When hospital colleagues know you and your fellow laboratorians by name, when they know they can call on you any time for the solutions they seek, that’s when you’re exchanging a currency of trust.
And trust is a curious thing. It begins by taking a chance and daring to learn more about a colleague you barely know. With care and diligence, it grows stronger over time. Fully evolved, it can make all the difference in the world, elevating your lab in the eyes of those you serve (Who else can they trust?) and ensuring a higher quality of patient care from clinical partners who will always be there for one another.
On trust having a ripple effect
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