Working Through Constructive Criticism

Whether it’s been at work, school, or in a personal setting, all of us have received constructive criticism at some point.  Constructive criticism is a type of evaluation that involves both positive and negative feedback.  While this type of feedback is typically used to help improve the recipient and to encourage personal or professional growth, it has the potential to cause a negative reaction.

It’s important for physician assistants to have the ability to receive constructive criticism graciously. You can be sure that a physician assistant will receive plenty of constructive criticism over time, especially in the early part of their career.  In some ways, it’s the nature of the profession, but it can also be the nature of practicing medicine as there’s always more to learn and there will seemingly always be someone more knowledgeable than you.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of constructive criticism, how can you work through it in an affective and tactful way?  Framing your criticism positively is arguably the easiest way because, if you think about it, most constructive criticism already includes at least one “positive” you can focus on.  For example, if you keep making the same mistake but it’s coming from a place of good intentions, reassure yourself that your intentions and motivations are the “positive” but you need to change the actions you’re taking to help improve the “negative”.   This will allow you to focus on the steps needed to correct your actions rather than turning inwards and questioning yourself.

There are two phrases that should never come out of your mouth- “I can’t” and “I know”.  Saying “I can’t” is extremely detrimental psychologically to a person who hopes to pursue a career in medicine.  The rigors of the education alone require an extremely positive attitude to achieve success.  Similarly, saying “I know” makes you seem like a know-it-all while not actually acknowledging the things that may need improvement.  If you respond to every critique with “I know”, you come across as arrogant, disinterested, and closed minded.  If you’re perceived as a closed off person, you could inadvertently lose some important opportunities for growth and personal improvement.

During your PA program interview, your interview committee may try to measure your amenability to constrictive criticism.  Rarely will they go as far as giving you direct constructive criticism based on your application materials, but they may ask you a question such as “Tell us about a time when you were admonished for a choice you made and how did you handle the situation?”  If posed this question, you’ll want to provide an anecdote where you accepted criticism, applied it, and grew from the experience.  It’s more important to have a great example of your growth than an experience directly related to the medical field, so try to have a well-rehearsed story in case a question like this comes up.

Acceptance of constructive criticism is important because as a physician assistant and member of a health care team, your growth as a professional will improve the efficacy of the team and therefore improve the outcome for the patient. The practice of medicine is both an art and a science and as such the physician assistant is always learning and growing as a healthcare provider!