Attractive female doctor in front of medical group .

One of the most common questions people ask themselves is how they can make a difference. This is especially true in healthcare, where kindness and compassion are part of the job description and every action can impact someone’s life profoundly both mentally and physically.

However, as with any question this broad, it is tricky to know where to start. While you can obviously make a difference when you do your job to a high enough standard, there is always more you can offer both your patients and your coworkers.

You can often convince yourself that you can only make an impact if you are the head of a company or in political office, but this is an excuse. You can make profound differences to your life and of those around you if you learn some basic techniques and adjust your mindset to fit.

It is important to quantify what a positive impact is in the healthcare space. It could be something as small as smiling and asking your colleague how their day is going, or it could mean saving somebody’s life.

With that said, here’s how you can make a positive impact in your healthcare career:

Upgrade your skill level to enact change

While anybody can create change if they want to, there is no doubting the fact you can have a more direct impact on immediate changes in healthcare the more skilled you become and the more influential your position.

This is why you should keep building on your skillset, even when you are established in your career. By creating an arsenal of important skills, you can work your way up into positions of greater influence, where the wheels of change really turn. There is no blueprint for this and you shouldn’t aim for higher positions if all you want is personal influence, but if you can become a leader of a team (or even a large group of people) you can directly impact those around you including, most importantly, the patients.

If you are a nurse, you could consider becoming a nurse leader with a course like an MSN to DNP program, widening your range of skills to include leadership and a deeper understanding of healthcare ethics, which you can use to drive policy change.

Keep your original intentions at heart

As so often in life, it is deceptively easy to become jaded and cynical as your career progresses. When your mind and body slip into a predictable routine, there is an increasing temptation to become a bit numb during work hours. This is nothing to be ashamed of, it is a basic human behavior, but it is crucial not to let it become a habit. As a healthcare professional, people rely on you to be a paragon of hope and care. Indeed, it is part of the job to maintain a positive and warm ‘bedside manner’.

One of the best ways to achieve this is to reflect on the early stages of your career, when your wide eyed, bushy tailed ebullience spilled over into your work. You entered the healthcare space in order to help others, and you should remind yourself of this from time to time, as you feel yourself slipping into insular moods. It’s a good habit to get into because it will improve your demeanor and the moods of those around you.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

One of the most profound human qualities is empathy. The ability to connect with another person and feel what they feel, or even sense what they need before they do, is extraordinary when put into positive action. It is, however, not a quality we are born with fully formed. You should therefore develop it within yourself. As a healthcare professional, it is one of the simplest ways to make a positive impact, yet the most difficult to actually learn.

So, where to begin on your empathy journey?

Start small. Observe and listen to those around you more than you usually would. Focus on their small gestures and movements, the worries they complain about and the excitement they feel when you mention a certain subject. This will drown out the inner dialogue you naturally have inside your head. This inner dialogue isolates us from those around us and stops us receiving the small signals which are so vital. Often, you will be dealing with a vulnerable person, who may not fully voice their pain or anxiety. It is your job to help decode these signals and work out how best to communicate with them and attend to their needs.

This is the definition of empathy. As you start to practice it more and more, you will start to feel an unusually strong connection with those you are caring for, which will magnify the positive impact you have on those around you. It will also help you work better with your colleagues, a welcome side effect of this amazing power.

Learn to work well with others

Following on from the previous point, it is important to work well with your team in order to make a positive impact. Although it might sound obvious, maintaining a strong and productive relationship with your colleagues can be extremely challenging at times. Everyone works differently and clashing of minds can quickly create a hostile environment. Many people would be tempted to give in to this hostility and take it personally.

Don’t.

Instead, try to understand your coworker’s points of view and opinions, no matter how much you may disagree. More often than not, they will have a valid point. By using your newfound power of empathy, you can see any ideas or problems from their perspective, which will allow you to find common ground. Always take the initiative and lead by example to create a productive working environment. It is one of the most powerful impacts you can make.

Being strong is just as important as being kind

Just because you can empathize with those around you, doesn’t mean you should be a pushover. Kindness should be given from a place of mutual respect. If you are seen as a soft target, or wield no social influence, then your power to make a positive impact in your healthcare career is minimized. Being fair is a good way to strengthen your position. If someone is clearly out of order, don’t be afraid to tell them. If one of your colleagues has exceeded their target, always be the first to congratulate them. By taking the initiative and speaking your mind in a constructive and thoughtful way, you regain this personal power and increase your ability to positively impact those around you.

Always have a goal and see that it gets done

Without consistent action, you cannot make any sort of impact with your work. Draw a list of achievable work targets, then make sure they get done. As you progress down the list, ticking them off as you go, you will create positive momentum that is difficult to stop. Once you are in this positive headspace, consistently proving to yourself and your coworkers that you regularly achieve your goals, you will automatically raise the bar in the workplace for you and your coworkers to shoot for. As long as you complete your tasks in an accomplished way, no bad can ever come from consistent, measured action.

Take a step back and assess where the problems lie

If you are to make a positive impact in your healthcare career, you first need to understand what the problems are that need fixing. In such a high stress industry as healthcare, it is all too easy to get too close to the grindstone and lose perspective.

There is an equally easy way to fix this.

Take time to step back and reflect on your work. Pay attention to how you interact with patients and staff. Do you act as a role model, the change you want to see? Are there obvious flaws in the way your organization operates? The only way to find out is to act as a bystander for a change. It’s no surprise that external inspectors can often find gaping holes in a company’s management system after only an hour spent walking around the building. While you may not be in a position to wield that sort of freedom, you can achieve a similar effect by silencing your interior monologue and just observing your environment in real time. You’ll be amazed how quickly you will spot mistakes and obvious problems with equally obvious solutions. Give it a go sometime.

Intensity is more useful than quantity

You have probably heard of the phrase “there are busy people, and productive people”. It’s a self-development cliche, but like most cliches, it is absolutely true. The world is full of busy people. You might even know some of them. These are the people who run around like headless chickens, always on the phone or speeding across town to yet another meeting. From the outside they look ultra-productive, because they are always on the go.

Often the opposite is true. Busy people don’t actually finish anything they start and so don’t achieve what they set out to do. This is why they are so busy in the first place, never wanting to commit to one difficult task and see it through to the end. It is a dangerous cycle to get yourself in, because it has a habit of perpetuating itself. Instead, aim to be a productive person. On the face of it, productive people are less dynamic and interesting than busy people because they actually knuckle down and get on with one single task. The difference is, they finish it to a high standard and move down their list of targets in a calm and methodical way. They are rarely flustered or rushed – seemingly sharing their time with everyone – because they aren’t scared of intense work.

By focusing all your effort and brain power on one important task at a time, you will achieve far greater results and make a positive impact with your healthcare career.

You are never too small to make a difference

While you can certainly have a great deal of influence if you hold down a high-ranking job – and this can be a great thing – it doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to make a positive difference. If you think back to the moments in your life when you’ve felt most flattered or touched by someone’s kindness, it was likely a very small gesture on their part. A perceptive comment made in passing can often mean more than the grandest of presents, and it’s the same in healthcare. Look out for the little things, and never be tricked into believing you’re too small to make a difference. Act as a role model for those around you and work to lift everyone’s mood for the better.

Help yourself before you help others – the oxygen mask theory

Perhaps the most fundamental principle of making any kind of positive impact is that you can’t help others until you help yourself. It can feel selfish to actively think about yourself, but if it is done productively it can be enormously beneficial. This is because your ability to give is severely dictated by your own mindset and circumstances. If you are feeling anxious, over-stressed and tired then it’s easy to only spread kindness and positivity out of a desperate neediness. This will do nothing but create a negative impact. Instead, spend time investing in yourself, making sure you are in the best position possible to help others.

For example, if you are deliberately overworking yourself out of misguided selflessness, and not giving yourself time to rest and recharge your batteries, this is only going to limit the positive impact you can have in your healthcare career. If possible, ensure you put yourself first. Only then can you be the change you want to see in healthcare.