How to Clicker Train Your Doc

My eyes played a trick on me the other night, or perhaps it was my subconscious. Emma and I were reading by the fire – my nose was in one of my medical journals and she had a stack of animal behavior books next to her while looking intently at the screen of her laptop computer.

As I was reading along I registered the sound of the dogs snoring rhythmically nearby. My eyes glanced over my magazine’s headlines with words like guidelines, accountable care, pay-for-performance, evidence-based and quality.

I had just made the quiet observation that there are innumerable forces that create and use buzzwords like that when trying to tell front-line doctors like me how we should do our jobs without really thinking for ourselves when Emma broke the silence in our living room.

“This is really interesting”, she said. “The way clicker training works may be by stimulating the amygdala of animals, so they feel instant joy before they consciously become aware that the trainer approves of what they just did.”

I knew a fair amount about clicker training; Emma has been using it on our canine family members and I have seen it work wonders with our adolescent female German Shepherd.

“Isn’t it just a conditioned response like Pavlov’s bell?” I asked as I looked up from my journal.

“Well, some people seem to think the actual sound of the clicker may be a more direct way to stimulate the amygdala than other sounds or words people use in training.”

My eyes moved from my wife’s face, framed by her beautiful long brown hair, to her eyeglasses reflecting the light from her computer screen, to the stack of books next to her. Suddenly my mind jolted at the title of the book on top. For a split second I thought it said:

How to Clicker Train Your Doc 

Emma was back to reading her webpage. The dogs snored peacefully. My mind was spinning.

Physicians are not quite subjected to clicker training, but we are certainly recipients of signals that are aimed at our preconscious minds, if not our amygdalas. All those people and institutions that try to influence physicians’ behavior are trying to get into our minds below the radar of our critical thinking, just like advertisers work on all of us. They use feel-good messages that try to do what clicker training does to our pets – create new behaviors we would otherwise not pick up on our own.

But doesn’t it go deeper than that for most doctors? It seems to me we often make ourselves do things that run counter to our nature. We do what others say we are good at, even when there’s no one around to cheer us on – even when doing it is to our own ultimate detriment. We end up using our burnout skills because we have created our own conditioned responses.

I opened my own laptop and started reading about clicker training and the amygdala. Wikipedia gave me the following quote:

“Clicker–trained animals become great problem–solvers, develop confidence, and perform their work enthusiastically.”

Just like doctors…

1 Response to “How to Clicker Train Your Doc”


  1. 1 Cheryl Lord January 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I’ll take my clicker with me to my next doctor appointment !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Bookmark and Share

Mailbox

contact @ acountrydoctorwrites.com
© A Country Doctor Writes 2008-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given.

RSS A Country Doctor Reads:

  • Top 100
    A Country Doctor Writes is one of the top 100 healthcare blogs on eVisit’s 2016 list. They write: This blog is a great read from a small-town doctor who’s been practicing on the same families for generations. The posts feature “progress notes,” highlighting interesting and unusual cases, along with touching stories of being the doctor […]
  • Expert Advice, But Not in Spelling
    Here’s a headline from this week’s Medical Economics. The article points out that our office notes are scrutinized for lazy documentation cliches that don’t reflect the amount or complexity of work to justify our charges. What’s that expression about throwing rocks from a glass house?
  • Single Dose Propranolol and Reexposure to Phobia or PTSD Triggers Brings Cure
    After one round of treatment, the arachnophobes held the spiders in their bare hands. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/opinion/sunday/a-drug-to-cure-fear.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share
  • When Hospital Paperwork Crowds Out Hospital Care
    A FRIEND was recently hospitalized after a bicycle accident. At one point a nursing student, together with a more senior nurse, rolled a computer on wheels into the room and asked my friend to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10. She mumbled, “4 to 5.” The student put 5 into the […]