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Learning a new culture requires one’s attitude towards the change

Culture is something that we are exposed to everyday no matter what age we are, the field we work in, and life in general. It has been defined as all the ways of life including arts, the beliefs and institutions of a population that has been passed down from those prior to us. It includes language, customs, and beliefs about roles and relationships.

We want to fit into society, our jobs and professions, and everyplace that we go. That can be challenging as we are subject to the various differing cultures as they exist where we are going.  Culture is learned; it is not taught. When we leave one culture and move into another, it may take up to six months to learn a new culture. There is one very important aspect that needs to be considered with learning a new culture and that is one’s attitude towards the change.

Many of us, if not all of us, have experienced a job or profession change. The job part itself was easy as there is usually a description that one can view to see if it is a fit. The next part, the interview, is the next challenge. Are you a fit for the organization and is the organization a fit for you? The final step in that process is acceptance or rejection from you or the organization. What may even add to the complexity is if you were hired to change the culture.

Here is where the rubber meets the road.

Much of this has helped me initially and everyday as I work at two culturally different hospitals, and I need to make mental paradigm shifts frequently. Neither culture is wrong, and I must remember that there may be parts of a culture one may dislike or disapprove of, but these are part of a broader social system, and therefore make more sense inside that system.

That doesn’t mean that process changes cannot be changed or improved but it must be done in a manner that respects the organizational culture which may also need change in the long run.

Chances are that you have been in similar situations within your organization depending on your position and role. Here is one important principle to keep forefront in your mind: maintain a mind-set of open-mindedness and a curiosity to learn. Adjusting to a new culture doesn’t mean that you must change your own values, but to my previous point, it must be done with respect. Maintain an attitude of positivity and not one of this is how I’ve always done it with no intention to change.

In summary, remember, culture is not taught, it is learned!

Programming note: Listen to Dr. John Zelem Tuesdays on Talk Ten Tuesdays, with Dr. Erica Remer and Chuck Buck, 10 Eastern.


John Zelem, MD, FACS

John Zelem, MD, is principal owner and chief executive officer of Streamline Solutions Consulting, Inc. providing technology-enabled, expert physician advisor services. A board-certified general surgeon with more than 26 years of clinical experience, Dr. Zelem managed quality assessment and improvement as a former executive medical director in the past. He developed expertise in compliance, contracts and regulations, utilization review, case management, client relations, physician advisor programs, and physician education. Dr. Zelem is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board.

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