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Working with Friends

If you are reading this article, you are likely in the medical field which means your work path has been set out for you since medical school. Physicians typically go from medical school, to residency to possibly more training and eventually to working in their desired field. This path, while traditional, oftentimes doesn’t allow for much variability. Deciding where to eventually work may depend on a physician’s potential salary, call schedule, family life and location. But should it involve friendship too?

According to many seasoned psychologists, having meaningful friendships at work may actually be a psychological necessity. In fact, one of the central questions in Gallup’s employee engagement survey asks whether participants “have a best friend at work.” In 2017, a Gallup poll found that friendships can boost employee satisfaction by 50%. This is just the tip of the iceberg. People with friends at work are also more likely to report job satisfaction. A 2015 study of 168 employees in the workplace found that those with rich workplace relationships were seven times more productive and engaged at work.

We, the authors of this article, are two physician friends who work together.

We would like to share our story with you and then explain the rationale behind why we feel physicians should consider working with their friends.

Samira’s Story

Ana and I met in pediatric residency. I was her upper level and she was my intern and for some strange scheduling reason, she was assigned to work with me almost every 30 hour shift on the pediatric ward. Our relationship began as any other would in residency; a mutual respect for each other but mostly focused on patient care and responsibility. I immediately realized how lucky I was because Ana was an amazing intern who wasn’t afraid of hard work. She was reliable and always had a great attitude. In short, she was a gem.

A few weeks into our long shifts together she asked me more personal questions and before I knew it, we were bonding over our shared heritage, giggling at random pop culture references, and laughing hysterically at the drop of a hat. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Like many physicians, Ana and I have many happy memories to reflect upon when thinking back to those unique days.

Our paths crossed again when I moved to the same city several years later. As soon as we had a job opening, I reached out to Ana and asked if she wanted to join our practice. To my surprise, she accepted and we have been working together as “grown-ups” ever since.

To say that working with Ana has been a highlight of my career is an understatement. The fact that I can run any patient situation by her is just one of the many small advantages of working with a best friend. That we laugh at every opportunity, share intimate details of our personal lives and still want to attend medical conferences together is a testament to how rich this type of relationship can be, not only in an average working environment, but specifically for physicians who tend to have stressful, demanding and often unforgiving work environments. In our outpatient practice, we have also become close friends with our third partner who trained elsewhere. Ana and I have been through many professional and personal ups and downs and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ana’s Story

Our bond was created early on in our careers and has grown exponentially since then. Often the best friendships are born out of shared experiences at the most vulnerable times of our lives. Residency was definitely one of those times. Learning massive amounts of medical knowledge while navigating patient care and taking care of children was physically, academically, and emotionally just as enriching as it was draining. Having a friend who understands exactly what you are experiencing is not only comforting but therapeutic. Laughing so hard that we start crying or crying to the point of laughter was a frequent occurrence for us.

Samira was more than a friend to me. She was my first mentor on the hospital wards. I was naturally intimidated and nervous during our first shift together because of all the wonderful things I had heard about her. Her medical expertise, her leadership skills, and her ability to make her patients and colleagues fall in love with her was a well-known fact to all. Despite her reputation, she was humble and made me feel instantly comfortable. I considered myself to be lucky to have such a compassionate and approachable mentor during my first shifts as a resident.

Knowing each for almost a decade now and fostering our relationship over the years, we have realized our shared passion beyond pediatrics, focused on self-discovery, introspection, and a desire to share things we learn along the way. We spend hours talking about our professional and personal lives and all things pediatrics. We spend most of these hours laughing at and with each other; this friendship has been one of the most fulfilling relationships for me.

Most professionals, especially physicians hope to find a work place where their colleagues share the same principals, work ethic, and ethos as them. This is why it was a no brainer for me to join the same practice as Samira. Little did I know that we would find a third partner in crime that shared the same ethics and passion for pediatrics. Now I can’t imagine working without these ladies.

Our Joint Experience

Overall, we have found that working alongside a close friend is beneficial in many ways including having consistent moral support. Physicians have a kinship and understanding of the challenges our profession faces.

Having a friend at work who gets the frustrations, the highs and lows, and the intricacies of our profession is invaluable.

Working with friends also allows us the opportunity to experience a level of work trust beyond the norm, which is also helpful to physicians. Research has also shown that having good relationships with work colleagues contributes to physician happiness and reduces stress and burnout, an ever increasing problem in our industry. People are happiest when they are social and considering how much time physicians already spend away from their family and friends, working with friends allows us a unique opportunity to kill two birds with one stone; working while being surrounded by friends.

We are living proof that the bonding many physicians experience in residency can be replicated and extended into future careers. We recommend that when physicians are presented with the opportunity to create friendship with a colleague, they seize it. Consider this as a factor in job hunting. During your interviews, can you see yourself becoming personal friends with your potential work colleagues? Do you have common ground and do you practice medicine the same way? Remember that although salary, lifestyle and location are important in the job search, aligning and connecting with your partners is a consideration as well.

If you don’t already have a bond with your colleagues, taking extra time to get to know and develop connections can be mutually fulfilling and enhance job satisfaction. Alternatively, working in close quarters with someone for hours on end can create misunderstandings and strained relationships. If there is a bond and mutual respect created, it is easier to be more understanding, compassionate and forgiving when the stressors of the job get the best of us.

If we continue to prioritize our connections and relationships and focus on our shared humanity, work environments can thrive with creativity, productivity, and fulfillment.

Anandita Pal DO and Samira Hodges MD (ThePedipals) work in outpatient pediatrics together and are passionate about parental education and pediatric care. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @thepedipals.

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