Coping With The Negative Evaluation (It’s Not Always Straightforward!)
At some point, you will probably receive a negative evaluation. Most human beings are not perfect! But, is there anything that you can do about it? And, what does a negative evaluation really mean for your career? In order to answer these questions, we are going to classify the different types of negative evaluations you may encounter. And then, we will answer what you should do about the negative evaluation you receive.
Types Of Negative Evaluations
In my experience, you may encounter two different types of negative evaluations. First, some evaluators mean well and write a negative evaluation with the best of all intentions. What do I mean by that? Simply, your superior genuinely writes down something critical in the hope that you will improve. These sorts of evaluations tend to be specific, helpful, and actionable. In addition, the faculty member has briefed you already on the issues that you faced together. So, there are no surprises.
More equivocal, however, there is the second sort of negative evaluation. Typically, the evaluator gives vague generalities about your performance without any particular reason why. Nor has he discussed the issues with you. These evaluations may or may not relate to your work quality and are based on a gestalt or other attending’s opinions. In the end, this sort of negative evaluation does not provide the resident with a learning opportunity. Nor can the resident correct the issue because the attending has not given actionable information.
What’s The Next Step?
OK. So, you’ve received the negative evaluation but what are you supposed to do next? If you have received the first type of appropriate evaluation, it becomes really simple. Try to correct the issue that your attending has outlined for you. In fact, a negative evaluation can sometimes be “kind” in a manner of speaking. Imagine that your attending never addressed the issue with you. If this was the case, your error could potentially stick with you throughout the remainder of your training, even your career. In a sense, you should thank your instructor for his insights. You may never have made amends on your own.
But then, there is the second sort of evaluation. No clear path to take. In this situation, initially, you would want to talk to this attending in order to clarify what he intended in the evaluation. Most of the time, you will be able to infer what your faculty evaluator originally meant. Oh, but if life was always so simple!
So, this leads to the next step in the process. If you do not get a clear message from your attending, you are obligated to find someone who can give you the information. This can mean you should attempt to find another attending who can figure out what this other faculty member intended. Or, perhaps, if that does not work, you can ask one of your co-residents. Sometimes, it can be a certain pattern of behavior that your other colleagues and faculty can identify but may be obscure to you.
The Good News
The typical negative evaluation doesn’t usually go anywhere. Most often, it stays in the cabinet of the program director or coordinator. Solitary negative evaluations are usually just that. They are one-offs. And, by immediately responding to the negative evaluation you have taken care of any potential harmful effects.
The Bad News
On the other hand, if there is a pattern of multiple negative evaluations or you allow the negative evaluation to fester without the attempt to correct it, the negative evaluations can pile up and become something more. Theoretically, it can become the beginning of a document trail for probation or even dismissal! For that reason, it behooves the resident to take whatever negative evaluations they receive very seriously. Action should ensue immediately.
My Take On The Negative Evaluation
You can look at the negative evaluation in two ways. First, you can see as an affront to your whole persona. For those of you that take an evaluation in this way, it is destined to be a negative experience. You will not learn from the message of the negative evaluation. And, you will continue to make the same mistake. (Something you do not want to do when you are practicing radiology!) On the other hand, those that see a negative evaluation as not a vendetta but rather as an opportunity to correct their own mistakes will learn and improve their own practice. What kind of radiologist do you want to be?