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November 7, 2016

Why a Cleveland Clinic doctor told his team to drop 'just' from their vocabularies

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Nov. 12, 2019.

Tom Abelson, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Beachwood Family Health & Surgery Center, recently sent a powerful email to all staff after a woman told him she was "just a float."

The national prescription for nurse engagement

Abelson shared his note with the Daily Briefing after reading a recent story about a woman who pushed back after being called "just a nurse."

The email

Abelson's email read:

Beachwood family:

This week we had a Medical Assistant (MA) filling in for an ill MA in the ENT office. I asked her name and where she normally worked. She said, "I am just a float…"

I gently chastised her and asked her to repeat her answer, with pride, but without the word "just." "I am a float, and my name is…." sounded much better. In this scenario, on a busy day in the office with one MA out, no one was more important to us than a float MA. I hope she enjoyed what she did and that she did it with pride and with an appropriate sense of being a key part of our team that day.

I have heard myself say, "I am just a general Otolaryngologist." I have heard others say, "I am just a receptionist." I have heard someone say, "I am just the Medical Director in…," (a smaller Family Health Center).

So let's lose the word "just" at the Beachwood FHC. We can describe ourselves without the word "just" without losing the humility that we hopefully all feel as well. If you hear someone say it to describe themselves, gently correct them.

I'm just saying….Whoops…I'm saying let's have pride in what we do as individuals and as a team.  We do great work in the Beachwood Family Health and Surgery Center.



"This type of messaging is spot on," said Laura Martin, a senior analyst with Advisory Board who has researched provider burnout.

"The sentiment of 'just' was a recurring theme in our burnout work," Martin added. "Time and again we heard from burned out physicians who felt like 'just a cog in the wheel.' Ensuring the entire care team feels recognized and valued is critical as we increasingly rely on their full, top-of-license support. No one is 'just' anything in today's world of increasingly demanding payers and value-conscious consumers."

Abelson also said his email generated many positive responses, and he agreed to share several with the Daily Briefing, while keeping the respondents anonymous.

One person replied, "Good morning, what a beautiful, inspirational message and email to open. A sincere thank you for sending that."

Another said, "Thanks for the reminder. I address this when I hear people use this term. I remind them of their value as a person."

And a third quipped, "Your email is 'just' great!!!"

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