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For Professional Credibility, Take These Important Steps

 Healthcare worker gaining professional credibility with coworkers.

Lactation consultants often feel that they will be looked down upon because they lack those “initials after their name.” This is especially true of especially those without a healthcare license or a college degree. I understand the concern, but professional credibility is much bigger than that.

Anyone who has ever been a “new hire” has felt the need for new co-workers to recognize them as credible. Those who have a “lesser” credential often find themselves trying to gain credibility in the eyes of those who have a “greater” credential.

But your credentials or certifications — or lack thereof — won’t automatically “give” you credibility — you have to earn it. Even with good, solid credentials, you still need to earn the respect that will make you credible in other peoples’ eyes. Here are 6 ways that you can gain credibility (and they’ll help with retaining or improving it, too). In another post, I give tips on what to avoid for the sake of professional credibility.

Offer helpful information 

This can be tricky. You don’t want the perception that your “help” is a ploy to prove you are right and they are wrong. So, this often works best in situations other than the “heat of the moment,” and talking about general principles of care rather than when you are clashing over clinical management of a particular patient. You’ll want to offer help in a broader context — and preferably, on a topic that is not your pet peeve or the other person’s Achilles’ heel.

Be humble

If you find yourself misinformed, or you drop the ball on an important issue, or you just flat-out make a poor clinical judgment, admit it to all involved. For many of us, it’s not comfortable to say “I was wrong.” I freely admit I still find it hard to do! But until I know everything there is to know about the inexact science of healthcare, there is a high likelihood that I’m going to muff up from time to time. If I forget, don’t follow through, misunderstand, or miscommunicate, at least saying “I’m sorry” can build credibility. People know they can count on me to admit my errors and work to correct them. Be humble, but don’t berate yourself.

Conversely, coming up with a lame excuse generally reduces one’s credibility. Others will believe you to be more worried about your reputation than doing what’s right.

Know your limitations

At the beginning of the Comprehensive Lactation Course I teach, we talk about roles and responsibilities. (It is, after all, subtitled “Cornerstones of Clinical Care and Exam Success” — roles and responsibilities are nothing if not cornerstones of care!) It is my firm belief that until we are clear about what we are authorized to do, what we actually know how to do, and what we realistically can do, we are setting ourselves up for credibility erosion.

No one wants me stepping on his or her professional toes; I didn’t go to medical school like a physician, so I always remind myself that I am simply not able or authorized to determine the risk/benefit of medications.

Similarly, there are things I am authorized to do and know how to do, but someone else who is better or faster is readily available. And, if I’m uncertain about how proceed with a clinical responsibility, I will seek a second opinion from others — including those who might be my chronological or professional junior, if necessary. I won’t shrink from making a decision. But sometimes, having another pair of eyes has benefited not the only patient, but my credibility, as well.

Commit to being a lifelong learner

I truly believe that many evergreen “principles” learned in basic training or education, should be used on a daily basis. I have little respect for the “professional” who bases their clinical assessments and management on the latest fad. At the same time, I push for continued learning.

I can tell you with certainty that I learned exactly nothing in nursing school about breastfeeding. For the first decade or more of my career in lactation, I was completely self-taught. In some respects, I am still self-taught, because I learn something about breastfeeding or parenting every day. There is no substitute for being a willing learner when it comes to building credibility.

Know where your resources are

For just about any given clinical situation, I know where to find the answer. It may be in a book (or, these days, an app!) or in my head or someone else’s. Years ago, when electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) was still a fairly new technology, I was hired at a new hospital. I felt confident in my labor/delivery skills, but I feared losing credibility because my EFM skills were passable but not stellar. Realizing that the nurse in the fetal monitoring lab read EFM strips all day long, I confided to her my fears.

She chuckled, jotted down a 5-digit number on a piece of paper towel, pushed it towards me and said, “Here you go. Here’s everything you need to know.” Baffled, I asked, “What’s this?” She said, “My phone extension. Call me any time.” I did call her — many times — and eventually, Debbie Letteney, RN, became my close friend. Knowing where to find your resources – human or material – and being willing to use them so that you can do your job better is sure to enhance your professional credibility.

Find and emulate other professionals 

Find a few people in your field who resonate with you, and commit to following their work. I had the good fortune to figure this out years ago. It has helped me to gain professional credibility in large and small ways. I wouldn’t say I’ve read every word written by pediatrician, breastfeeding researcher, and author Dr. Ruth Lawrence, but I began reading and studying her work early in my career, and eventually had the great privilege to work with her. (I still keep in touch on a regular basis!) I have resigned myself to the realization that I will never find another “giant” in the field like her. However, I do have a handful of experts whose message, professional style, or philosophy resonates with me.

I’ve followed them for decades, and try to emulate them. (Nowadays, blogs make that easier and easier!) A handful of nurses, doctors, researchers, authors, educators, entrepreneurs, and others have profoundly and consistently helped me have a deep desire to “grow up to be just like them.” In that way I have gained much professional credibility.

What resonates with you? How can you wake up tomorrow, go to your job, and gain more professional credibility with your colleagues? I’m looking forward to your insight in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. June Myers

    Thanks so much for this marvelous article!! I agree so much with your thinking here. I’m a ibclc working at a small hospital, nonRN. You are so right on about credentials. I’ve tried to be patient and not push too much for changes. I look forward for more growth and challenges and will remain a learner for life!!

  2. Marie

    June, thank you for your feedback! I value peoples’ insights here. On being patient, yes, so true. Hard for me, because patience is NOT one of my virtues! Hoping you will subscribe to the blog…I would like to believe that I will provide you with plenty of material for growth and challenges that will help you to remain a learner for life! (And I continue to be a learner for life…blogging helps me to learn so I can help others!)

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