Are You Serious?

The Thinker, Artist's rendering of the sculptu...Image via Wikipedia

The healthcare industry is full of serious people. They should be serious, shouldn’t they? After all, health care is serious business. Life is at stake and life is sacred. But if you had to choose between two different kinds of providers, which one would you prefer: the serious one or the responsible one? The two kinds aren’t necessarily the same. Being serious is an emotion. Responsibility is a state of awareness. That difference could seriously influence the quality of your treatment.


Most of the people in health care are good, competent and emotionally secure human beings. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of angry people in the same industry. I know that I don’t want an angry surgeon or ticked off nurse giving me a medication. Do you? Could anger stem from being serious? I believe that it could.

Our culture teaches us to be serious. There’s nothing wrong with being serious per se. But it’s worth a peek at what grows beneath the word. The root word of serious is seryows, which sounds a bit like sorrows. Ours is a serious world. It’s also sorrowful. Perhaps there’s a connection. If language influences our perceptions and behaviors, then we need to re-think what we teach our children. Otherwise, they will grow up to confuse seriousness with responsibility. They will be depressed. Look around you if you think I’m exaggerating.


Fortunately, our culture teaches us to be responsible too. Resonsible is rooted in respuns, or response. Responsibility by definition requires action, a reply. Being responsible, however, is not the same as being serious and yet our culture often equates and confuses the two words. That’s an error that might be costing us lives.

I understand the need for bearing a sacred sense of emotion when providing care to patients. I’m not arguing against the sacred. I am arguing for stripping away the assumptions we make which prevent us from being our most responsible. Experienced professionals have smashed medical equipment against walls because they were serious about saving their patients’ lives. That’s pretty serious. It’s not responsible, especially when the equipment is life-saving.

Many health care facilities still tolerate this madness. Why? I think it’s because some of the people who run those organizations are serious about healthcare and they’re afraid that by condemning the serious behavior they are violating the sacredness of life. Health care is an ancient business. It’s an historical confluence of religion, warfare, science, art, culture and just about everything else that makes a civilization. So it’s not much of a wonder why the healthcare industry is so serious about being serious. The industry can do better. It’s your health, so it’s your responsibility too.

If you want to find out for yourself, offer to volunteer at your local hospital. See if there’s anything you can do to lighten things up.


I think it’s time we publicly recognize the difference between being serious and being responsible. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive; but the semantic relationship might just be too close for us to dismiss.

I know I want to be responsible. If that means I have to be less serious, so be it. Nursing might be a lot more fun. It should be. After all, life is a stake and life should be fun. Fun is a responsiblity of the living. Seriousness is for the dead. It’s our responsibility to save our sorrows for the dead. That’s how we rescue them.

If being serious leads to anger and anger leads to error, then we need to be less serious and more responsible. Life is at stake and life is sacred. Seriously.

If you have ideas on how to improve our health care responsibilities, please comment here. If you like what your reading, subscribe to my feed and we can continue the discussion.

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  1. Thank you for that story. That's the kind of humor that keeps people sane.

    I do think that the expectation to be seen as professional is part of the high-tension seen in many facilities. But I also think there's a lot of value in nurses being human. I can't tell you how many times patients and family members appreciated the human side of doctors and nurses. in fact, the *serious* ones never really seemed to appeal to patients too well.

    It's a cliche, but humor's a great med.

  2. I don't know if its a sign of old age, but I am always saying that life is too serious in midwifery, especially amongst students. They just don't seem to get up to tricks like I did when I was their age, like the time the girls (my student nurse colleagues) tied a ribbon to a certain area of a young lad's anatomy on his birthday when he was in traction – whoops, probably shouldn't have told that story.

    I think we take life so much more seriously because of expectations of ourselves, our professions and the general public. For example, the British Nursing & Midwifery Council have just brought a standard that we must be professional at all times. I wouldn't argue with that, but what is their definition of 'at all times'? I do wonder if in our struggle (nursing and midwifery) to be seen as 'professional' we have lost that spark that made life so much fun 20 years ago. I'd be interested to hear what others think.

  3. I agree that the highest level has to be committed and that there is an underinvestment in infrastructure.

    The acronym for your plan (SIPOC) sounds similar to six sigma. But there's also a cultural challenge that has to be addressed.

    What kinds of clients have you helped? How open were they to the kinds of changes you suggested?

  4. Responsibility should begin at the highest level of the organization with a commitment toward providing resources and staffing required to adequately manage and provide quality care.

    Many American health systems are significantly underinvested in quality management Infrastructure, Process, and Organization. Breakthrough improvements in quality and efficiency require a “world class” quality management foundation that includes:

    Strategy: including a clear linkage of quality and patient safety to the organizational strategy and a Board-driven imperative to achieve quality goals.

    Infrastructure: incorporating effective quality management technology, EMR and physician order entry, evidence based care development tools and methodologies, and quality performance metrics and monitoring technology that enables “real time” information.

    Process: including concurrent intervention, the ability to identify key quality performance “gaps,” and performance improvement tools and methodologies to effectively eliminate quality issues.

    Organization: providing sufficient number and quality of human resources to deliver quality planning and management leadership, adequate informatics management, effective evidence based care and physician order set development, performance improvement activity, and accredition planning to stay “survey ready every day.”

    Culture: where a passion for quality and patient safety is embedded throughout the delivery system and leaders are incented to achieve aggressive quality improvement goals.

    My firm has assisted a number of progressive health systems to achieve such a foundation, and to develop truly World Class Quality.

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