It's the weighted question we all get; not just in a clinical setting, but personally too. I was inspired to write this post after a good friend and former colleague reached out to me and started the conversation by saying, "Ok, need to decide between 2 jobs. Be my mom and tell me what to do". My circumvented response, "Sure thing"; and then I went into a litany of questions.
You see, even if I were faced with the decision of choosing between these exact 2 jobs (insert any example of making a decision here), it wouldn't matter. First off, I probably would not have applied for the same jobs she did because our goals and interests vary. But secondly and more importantly, the criteria that may be most valuable to me, may be vastly different than hers. For example, what I value most in my life right now is the ability to do work that I love with a whole lot of flexibility. Her main goal or priority may be finding a job that fits her mission of being at the forefront of patient education while working for an organization that is deeply established.
What drives my decisions or informs my decisions is only naturally, organically going to be different than anyone else's. So how could I possibly tell someone else what to do?
So what is it that people actually need or want to hear when they ask, "What would you do?"?
They need you to ask the right questions and they need you to listen. Like, really listen. They are trusting your judgement and skills in being able to hear their story, concerns, and desires and your ability to ask the right questions to help them get to the right answers. In the clinical setting, this means guiding your patients through the decision making process while keeping in mind their clinical information and the answers/info they are seeking. I can tell you that from my own experience, I have had patients with almost the same clinical picture come to very different conclusions regarding how they should proceed with testing options. The questions I asked them were likely very similar, the conclusion we came to was very different because, well, we aren't all cookie-cutter people (thankfully!).
What amazes me about this process is that when you don't speak for the patient or your friend, you are allowing them to own their answers and decisions. This means that they have gone through the process of really synthesizing the information and have come to the best conclusion on their own (of course, with your assistance). So what ever did my friend decide to do with her job decision? She thought a lot about the questions we chatted about, reflected on what resonated with her, had a good nights rest, and came to her own conclusion - ultimately feeling a sense of relief and excitement about her decision. When you own your decision, you proceed with confidence knowing that you're making the best choice for the current moment that you are in.
When someone comes to you for advice, they come with a history and a whole lifetime of experiences that are so uniquely theirs. There is no possible way that you can assume you have the answers for them. Each person deserves the respect to have their story heard and the guidance to have a friend or clinical professional empower them to get to the point where they can own their decisions.