The Culture-Creating Power Of Reward And Recognition

March 20th, 2020 is National Doctor’s Day. Many organizations plan for a special recognition of their care team leaders by giving them a baseball cap, a thermos or a blanket with the organizational logo on it. These were the last three Doctor’s Day gifts for our physicians at Sharp HealthCare, where I was practicing. It’s nice. Thanks. I’m not complaining, but I don’t need a thermos. The baseball cap gave me hat head and I have yet to use the blanket.

Appreciation is not a thing, a transaction, or a day. It is a way of being so one can create places where individuals and teams are valued, appreciated, and recognized for their contributions and hard work. 

I was recently speaking to a group of attending physician leaders at an academic medical center on the east coast. I asked them to recall their best moments as leaders as they worked together at tables to share stories with each other.

During the debrief after the exercise, one of the attendings shared a story about a general surgery resident from a decade ago who was working very hard to improve his clinical knowledge and surgical skills. He pulled this resident aside one day to tell him how impressed he was and he was one of the best residents he had ever trained. He then described the profound progress of that resident in the years that followed. The attending then said, with a smile on his face, how that resident cites his praise on that day as his breakthrough moment that fueled his confidence and belief in himself to soar. The best part of the story? That resident is now the surgery department chair, and was sitting at the same table with that attending.


The expression of appreciation and gratitude to those providing care may be the most powerful engagement action a leader can take. It is a culture creator, confidence producer, fulfillment generator, talent retainer, belief builder, and behavior replicator. In fact, we contend the valuing of others may be the simplest and quickest solution for many of the burnout challenges that now plague many of us as clinicians.

So here is a challenge for you: Find someone, somewhere doing something extraordinary in an ordinary day. You’ll see it all around you when you look for it.

Comb through patient comments in your patient experience data and recognize the clinicians providing care. Round on patients and ask who is going above and beyond, and then go thank their care team.

Find the clinicians and team members working hard to make your organization better, make an appointment with them, and let them know they are your future and how grateful you are for all they do.

Watch what they do, how they respond, what your expressed appreciation did for your relationship. . . and how it felt for you. Gratitude can change lives in deep and enduring ways. It creates the moments that many of us recall as our best. . . you wonder why we don’t do it more often.

Learn more about our Patient Experience Certification Program designed to advance clinician knowledge in connecting with patients and support development through reward and recognition.

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