Several months ago, I was preparing for a talk at a local medical society entitled, Maintaining Professional Boundaries, and the presentation included a section on, “gift-giving and the doctor-patient relationship.” During my preparation, I came across an Internet forum where both patients and physicians were commenting on the topic of patient-doctor gift-giving.
Most of the doctors said they did not expect gifts, though they realized patients sometimes wanted to express their gratitude and appreciation with a present. While it was not uncommon to receive gifts such as baked goods, a fruit basket or event tickets, most doctors said what they treasured most was a simple “thank-you” card from a grateful patient, or a drawing from a child. An exception was a surgeon who was disgruntled about the lack of gifts bestowed upon him by his seemingly “ungrateful” patients. He ended his post with the following plea, “If any of my patients are reading this, let it be known I do like red wine”.
In sharp contrast was a transplant surgeon. He said he was especially appreciative when he heard from families where the outcome was not as hoped for, and they told him he had tried his best and done everything in his power. It was these kinds of expressions that helped him continue to persevere despite the challenges and disappointments.
It is true that often what we really want from each other is to be acknowledged for who we are and what we do, and to feel appreciated. Gift-giving, as an expression of our gratitude and appreciation, is important, but sometimes we miss out on the real gifts we can give each other.
One of my clients, (who gave me permission to share this), started a trend in his family of giving the gift of appreciation and acknowledgement. Like most of us, the family had been accustomed to the typical material exchanges for holidays. Desiring a more meaningful connection with his children, he started writing each of his kids a special card that was a tribute to them and expressed the kinds of sentiments we often have trouble verbalizing. His children really valued these cards and started writing back.
When asked, “What do you want for Christmas Dad?” his reply is always, “Just one of those cards.” He shared a whole stack of these cards with me. I read a number of them, and they left me in awe. They were simple, poignant expressions of appreciation and love, and spoke to how he had made a big difference in their lives. Things we never grow tired of hearing.
There is an exercise I learned in my coaching training called,
“The Gifts I See In You.” It may seem too touchy-feely for some, but it has a lot of impact on people and can be done with spouses, kids or anyone. One person will say to another, “The gifts I see in you are,” followed by several words that describe the person’s unique qualities and strengths. Then the other person takes a turn.
For example, “The gifts I see in you are courage, compassion and generosity. And that’s not all!!