Canadian Medical Association

What is civility?

According to Well Doc Alberta, civility is a “professional competency that refers to working together to achieve a mutual goal, often with a benevolent purpose.” Further to this, the Institute for Civility in Government explains that civility is “claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” It plays a huge role in medical culture, requires commitment from everyone involved and can have a major impact on wellness.

Why is it important? 

You may not recognize civility on a daily basis, but you will certainly recognize its absence. Dr. Michael Kaufmann from the Ontario Medical Association’s Physician Health Program characterizes uncivil interactions as leaving you feeling “uncomfortable, fundamentally disrespected, diminished and ostracized.” He adds that individuals experience incivility as “personal stress, distress, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic disorders and burnout,” making it hard for them to live up to their productivity potential.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging for health care professionals to practise civility. During the pandemic and other times of stress and crisis, physicians may experience uncertainty, loss of control and decreased competence (perceived or real) while also attempting to mitigate pressures outside of work. The increase in stress could lead to burnout, moral distress and other wellness issues, raising the risk of incivility. As outlined by Well Doc Alberta, these times of heightened stress should be seen as an opportunity to strengthen teams, build connections and build a supportive community that can promote and foster civility.

How can you embrace civility? 

Embracing civility in the workplace means engaging in positive social interactions, allowing for the development of strong and effective connections. Put simply, making a concerted effort to be civil to one another results in improved teamwork.

There are five fundamentals of civility:

  • Respect others and yourself: treat everyone in the workplace with respect regardless of their role
  • Be aware: be deliberate and be aware of your actions and the actions of others — mindfulness and reflective practice can help enhance awareness
  • Communicate effectively: effective communication is critical during times of tension or when the stakes are high
  • Take good care of yourself: being civil is difficult when you are stressed or ill
  • Be responsible: understand and accept personal accountability — avoid shifting the blame 

By committing to civility in medical culture, physicians are choosing to help create a healthier working environment for their colleagues and, as a result, provide better care for patients.


COVID-19 wellness resources Relationships

Are you in distress? Get help now.

Back to top