A beautiful four-legged white and brown yapping puppy, Neo, stole our hearts when my son brought her home.  The puppy was very excited to be among smiles, rubs, and playful owners.  However, our 8-week-old puppy found out right away that she had some stiff competition from our 12 year-old mixed blue heeler, Zoey.  Zoey has been queen of the yard since she was a puppy. Of course, the animal instinct/territorial pressures would impact the newcomer in a grand manner. Neo wanted to snuggle up to the elderly dog, but quickly discovered there would be no snuggles and no tail wagging from Zoey. To the contrary, Zoey’s loud growls and fierce barking sent a clear message: “get your own yard”.  We humans had to quickly separate the two dogs for the protection of the newcomer.

The obvious territorial display by Zoey reminded me that jealously is an innate animal instinct difficult to control.  While newcomer Neo was excited as she jumped up and chased me in a ballerina swirl completing figure 8 motions through my legs, I could see she was aware of the negative vibes from Zoey. I could imagine that the coming of new house officers, faculty and support staff could spark a similar response from some of our “seasoned” crew.  As for Zoey, a friendly gesture from her –– the experienced and more wise one –– could possibly have put Neo at ease.

As I attempted to train Neo to walk alongside me while I held a leash on one side of my leg, I quickly learned a valuable lesson. Neo was prone to jumping on shoelaces, ankle biting, and twirling me in a circle. If I allowed that to continue, I would be all tied up in her leash and on the ground.  In fact, I had landed on the ground, with scraped knees and blood tricking down my leg from a one-inch slash in my hand. YouTube was my next move.  Videos are nice but not detailed enough, though. So, I resorted to the textbook, “How to Train Your Dog,” for pointers.  This detailed instructional guide was promising as a lifelong learning tool for me and my puppy.

As we face the notorious July 1st excitement of entering house officers, chief residents, fellows, and new faculty members, we will have opportunities to be ambassadors reflecting the positive goals set by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Those goals are to provide excellence in research, patient care, and education. Each is essential in our training. Without the knowledge found in our training tools, you and your newcomer may falter. We must be enthusiastic ambassadors as we greet and teach each “Neo” who comes our way. We can expect people from diverse backgrounds, regions, countries, languages, and cultures. All are seeking to reach goals of excellence found in our training. While they are learning to integrate our goals of excellence, it is quite possible – even highly likely – that the byproducts will include developing long-lasting relationships and friendships.  As trainers and role models, we will do best as we purposely ensure that we are inviting and informative to all. At the same time, we will do well to make a positive mark in alleviating biases and stereotyping – remembering that we serve as catalysts for a smooth transition for our newcomers. What we do ultimately determines how well we improve retention of our medical staff.

If Zoey had given Neo a chance, they both would have found a great queen-princess relationship.  Developing relationships is essential in providing the best teamwork for patient care.

Stay tuned: the DEI committee is planning a faculty team building event this Fall.  Send your suggestions for team building.

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