Jen­nifer Ash­ton,

No one is bet­ter with un­com­fort­able top­ics than an ob-gyn. MD, teaches you how to sail through awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions.

Cosmopolitan (India) - - CAREER -


I don’t wear a doc­tor’s white coat in my of­fice be­cause I want pa­tients to feel like they are com­ing to talk to a friend and can tell me any­thing. You can con­vey warmth and ap­proach­a­bil­ity in any line of work—keep­ing per­sonal pho­tos and me­men­tos on your desk is a great way to hu­man­ise your­self so col­leagues feel com­fort­able shar­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion with you.


If you need to glean sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion from some­one, start by ask­ing easy, open-ended ques­tions to make her feel com­fort­able. I al­ways be­gin an ap­point­ment by ask­ing my pa­tients, “How are you?” and “What’s new?” This is where typ­i­cally I would hear, “Oh, I quit my job” or “I have a new boyfriend.” You get re­ally help­ful in­tel when you just let peo­ple talk. Once you have that bond, it’s so much eas­ier to broach tough top­ics and have a pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion.


Don’t sit on bad news, and never e-mail or out­source the de­liv­ery to some­one else. If I’m call­ing a pa­tient, I say, “Do you have a sec­ond? Is this a good time?” I want her to be able to ask ques­tions or cry with­out feel­ing awk­ward or em­bar­rassed be­cause she’s at her desk. When meet­ing in per­son, find a pri­vate, un­ob­tru­sive place and strate­gic mo­ment. If I’m go­ing to ask a pa­tient how many sex part­ners she has had or whether she’s been us­ing pro­tec­tion, I will lit­er­ally wait un­til I’m sit­ting on the stool be­tween her legs. What­ever your work­place, a more in­ti­mate set­ting yields a more hon­est an­swer.


When peo­ple are up­set, they don’t re­ally hear what you’re say­ing and they get con­fused. Be very straight­for­ward about what’s hap­pen­ing. I might say, “I have the re­sults back. Your BRCA ge­netic test is pos­i­tive” or “You def­i­nitely have been ex­posed to gen­i­tal her­pes.” I con­dense the big pic­ture My abil­ity to mul­ti­task. I can triage my to-do list and then at­tack each task with laser fo­cus. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing in­for­ma­tion to women who later tell me that our in­ter­ac­tion changed or saved their life. Best feel­ing ever. A cash­mere sweater in grey, black, or navy, black Lu­l­ule­mon leg­gings, and black Prada biker boots. Be un­con­flicted. What­ever I’m do­ing, I go all-in and si­lence the guilty in­ter­nal voice that says I should be do­ing some­thing else. into a one-liner, then hand over a piece of pa­per on which I’ve writ­ten the spe­cific next steps.


Em­pha­sise any pos­i­tives as­so­ci­ated with the bad news—maybe you high­light that it’s great you caught the is­sue early or you frame the in­for­ma­tion as a way to mo­ti­vate change. Fo­cus­ing on pos­i­tives keeps your re­cip­i­ent fu­ture-ori­ented. Just keep the hope grounded in re­al­ity. In­stead, say, “I know this may be hard. But we’re go­ing to help you get through it.”

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