6 Tips for Improved Relationships with Physicians

Non-medical clinicians train and practice in a world that is considerably different from that of physicians. With the employment of the medical model and the liberal use of psychotropic medications to alter faulty biochemistry, knowledge and appreciation of medical culture is more important than ever before in strengthening collaborative relationships with physicians.

Therapists are at times reluctant to pursue collaboration with physicians who are intimidating, boorish, insulting, controlling or egotistical. Physicians also carry their own stereotypes of therapists as being too “theory oriented,” “touchy-feely” or not “symptom focused.”

These contrasting viewpoints demand that professionals sharing client care become familiar with each other’s roles and respect the value of each other’s views and opinions. For the non-medical clinician though, respect for the hierarchy is a key component in building relationships with doctors.

Here are some tips:

  1. Approach physicians in an assertive, confident manner. This will endear you to doctors faster than anything else. If you find yourself apprehensive or anxious, jot down your points or questions on an index card or notepad. Be succinct and make eye contact.
  2. If you work in an on-site system, find the “main traffic area” and place yourself in the middle of it. Greet physicians as they walk by with a smile and where appropriate, a handshake. This builds goodwill – an ally you’re going to need.
  3. Establish your expertise as a competent worker and respond timely to physicians that reach out to you. This speaks for itself. Do your job, do it well, and be available. Once you establish your competence, you’ll become the “go-to” person, particularly for difficult cases.
  4. Speak their language. This means focusing on symptoms and eschewing any theory jargon. For example, if after placing Ms. Jones on Cymbalta for a few days she reports feeling nauseous, restless and agitated, convey these symptoms using these terms to the prescriber. This is not the time to discuss her repressed memories from childhood.
  5. Never recommend a specific medication treatment. This is an egregious boundary violation, unless the doctor asks for your suggestion(s). Medication decisions are made by the physician in concert with input from the client system.
  6. Understand and appreciate cultural differences. Physicians are under severe time constraints, which should be respected. They take a tremendous amount of responsibility for their patients’ well-being and in facilitating change in their patients’ condition. Some non-medical clinicians on the other hand, often place the responsibility for change on the backs of their patients. This difference can create conflict which in turn fuels skewed expectations of one another.

Here’s the Key: Recognizing and appreciating role differentiation between the non-medically trained practitioner and the physician can be a productive step toward working collaboratively.


Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, www.thepharmatherapist.com, or e-mail him at joe@thepharmatherapist.com.