Strengthening Physicians’ Growth Mindset to Promote a Culture of Cooperation

Confident young doctors shaking hands in a modern hospital

By Rose Scaringella-Cappelli
January 12, 2021

Although 2020 was a year filled with many stressful uncertainties, healthcare workers came together to do everything possible to provide innovative care, accelerated COVID research, and advanced new technologies necessary to meet the challenges we faced. Uniting and rising to the challenges of the pandemic and the social inequities have allowed all of us to examine our role in promoting a culture of cooperation and collegiality in the workplace. This makes 2021 the perfect year to re-imagine our work environment, behaviors, and processes; it’s time to make changes that will strengthen our culture of fairness, inclusion, and belonging while letting go of disruptive behaviors that can negatively affect the workplace.

Managing relationships successfully and creating a welcoming environment to all is an invaluable skill that is necessary today for physicians to increase their success in the workplace. As an HR professional working in a medical environment, I have seen how increasing physician awareness of specific soft skills can positively influence both employee relations and patient care in a clinical setting.

Let us take a closer look. Disruptive behaviors have long been a concern among healthcare workers, and the topic has recently come under increased scrutiny. The Joint Commission requires healthcare organizations seeking accreditation to address disruptive behaviors and warns organizations of the safety risk posed by disruptive behaviors. In addition, medical schools and residency programs traditionally give little attention to the soft skills needed for managing relationships and resolving conflict among colleagues. With that, organizations are now realizing that Human Resources plays a vital role in the healthcare setting in ensuring that the workplace offers a collaborative healthy work environment to all employees.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

In 2020, I had the opportunity to create professional development training for physicians. During the analysis phase, I discovered why some physicians established a collaborative, respectful learning team environment, while others incorporated a work environment of power and authority.

With this discovery, I found that some physicians displayed qualities of a growth mindset and some displayed qualities of a fixed mindset, a theory once presented by psychologist, Carol Dweck. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she explains that there are two main mindsets for navigating through life: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.1 A growth mindset is the idea that with determination and training, our intelligence and character can be improved and strengthened. A fixed mindset is the idea that our intelligence and character are innate and mostly unchangeable.

Physicians who took on the growth mindset approach displayed the following behaviors and communication skills in the healthcare setting:

  • Demonstrated courtesy, kindness, and respect to all co-workers and a willingness to foster a positive work environment where employees felt empowered to do their best work
  • Sought continuous improvement to strengthen their emotional intelligence
  • Remained open and humble in requesting feedback and were willing to view it as a learning experience
  • Appreciated different and opposing views
  • Communicated in a way that was considerate and respectful toward others with the intent of working toward a common purpose

Think about the benefits of embracing these behaviors in the workplace. You are not only capable of managing your own emotions, but you communicate effectively with increased empathy and respect. Your relationships among colleagues, administration, and patients improve, and you build better work habits.

A fixed mindset can make the workplace very unpleasant, and physicians who display disruptive behaviors may also be some of the most skilled physicians in their specialty. Perhaps this is why these behaviors may be ignored or the physician may be treated more leniently than other staff members. The most frequently reported type of disruptive behavior is emotional-verbal abuse. Other examples of behaviors that promote a negative work environment include:

  • Communicating in a condescending tone that insults, belittles, and humiliates
  • Yelling and questioning everyone’s ability to get a task done
  • Comparing the work habits of a current employee to a previous employee
  • Not tolerating people who show signs of fallibility
  • Having a hard time accepting feedback, self-reflecting, and apologizing to others
  • Interrupting others to show that you have something more important to say
  • Displaying a lack of empathy
  • Using insulting or abusive language
  • Shaming others for negative outcomes
  • Making intimidating or demeaning comments
  • Arguing with staff, patients, family members, or other care providers
  • Reprimanding staff in front of patients, visitors, or other staff members

Therefore, a fixed-mind set, coupled with disruptive behaviors, can threaten the patients’ well-being due to a breakdown in communication and collaboration. The impact not only threatens patient safety, but also the well-being of healthcare workers and their ability to perform competently in their jobs.  In this downward spiral, relationships suffer, performance suffers, engagement decreases, and there is a reduction in creativity and productivity.

Call to Action

The American Academy of Family Physicians states that the following three strategies can help the new generation of physician leaders, but all physicians can adopt these powerful actionable strategies to strengthen their growth mindset and build strong relationships between clinicians, patients and staff:3

  1. Adopt a Daily Self-Reflection Ritual

Practice to pause and reflect, especially in stressful or tense situations. Pausing helps you to clarify your thoughts and feelings.

What are some deep questions to consider during the self-reflection process?

    • Why am I feeling so stressed and frustrated today, and what happened that triggered these feelings?
    • How did I handle the situation? Did I handle the situation abrasively or professionally?
    • If I’ve handled the situation abrasively, how can I resolve the issue respectfully?

Setting time aside to reflect can provide clarity and can help you make better decisions in promoting a positive work environment.

  1. Seek Feedback from Staff

The next strategy is to create a working environment where work groups can provide honest feedback.

This may be difficult to achieve if colleagues are hesitant to provide negative feedback. You can make the process easier by sharing your own frustrations with a situation you felt you did not handle well, and brainstorm with your team ways in which you might have reacted differently.

Do not take negative feedback personally. Instead, try to resist acting defensively and retaliating against anyone who is honest with your weaknesses. Shifting your focus to what needs to be changed and remaining calm enables you to deal with feedback professionally.

  1. Rate your Optimism

Lastly, the American Academy of Family Physicians states that physicians may want to rate their optimism. At the end of each week, ask yourself:

    • How positive were my interactions between staff members, patients, and faculty members?
    • How positive did I feel about the care I gave to my patients?
    • How positive am I about improvements I have made this week in my performance?


Human Resources can provide a learning pathway in supporting physicians’ growth by developing training in professional competencies. As a physicians’ strategic partner, Human Resources can work with physicians in igniting the growth mindset to create meaningful lasting relationships with staff, administrators, and patients in all departments. Can you just imagine the positive impact if all physicians embraced the growth mindset and avoided disruptive behaviors? It would help in creating a culture of accountability and cooperation among all colleagues.

In my experience, the workplace needs to incorporate learning goals to expand and strengthen one’s growth mindset and to encourage exploration and discovery.2 Sometimes people, including physicians, are not aware of how their behaviors affect others or how they appear to others. Adopting these strategies can strengthen the physicians’ growth mindset and increase their reputation, and it prevents misunderstandings and complaints. Learning how to interact cooperatively can increase staff and patient satisfaction and decrease the likelihood of negative comments influencing the medical office.

Become a leader in healthcare quality and safety. The Harvard Medical School Master of Healthcare Quality and Safety program is being offered in a live virtual and online format for the 2021-22 academic year. Qualified candidates may participate from anywhere in the world. Select the link to learn more.


  1. Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The new Psychology of Success. Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
  2. MacKay, B. (2019, June 10). How a growth mindset keeps you competitive in a changing workplace. Retrieved December 19, 2020, from
  3. Serio, C., & Epperly, T. (2006, February 01). Physician Leadership: A New Model for a New Generation, from

Rose Scaringella-CappelliRose Scaringella-Cappelli is a training & development specialist in the Department of Human Resources at Weill Cornell Medicine who has 20 years of experience in healthcare education and training. She is a facilitator with a genuine passion for teaching and inspiring others and truly enjoys working in healthcare and adult education. Her expertise is in facilitating many topics, including leadership and soft-skill development, new-hire orientation, sales, customer service, and medical office administration training. She is determined to strengthen the growth mindset of employees and has made it her goal to influence employees to think about new and improved ways to enhance the workplace and make it one where it is inclusive and more enjoyable.

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