When SMEs Go Rogue

How do you prepare a pediatric anesthesiologist for his first encounter with a set of concerned parents and a scared child?  Perhaps you could bring a few parents into his new hire orientation to talk about their past experiences.

Unless the parents go rogue.

A parent may offer a 6-minute biography even though she was asked to give a simple, 30-second introduction.  A parent may share 10 minutes of his daughter’s case history even though he was asked to simply share the questions he had for the anesthesiologist.

When a former classmate and I got together recently we spoke about this very situation.  She coordinates new hire orientation at a child-centered hospital and her sessions feature a panel of parents.  She was concerned that she only had 60 minutes to cover a broad range of topics, but sometimes the parents would take their stories too far which would occasionally take up time allocated for other topics.

I offered two suggestions:

  1. Advanced Warning.  In advance of the session, send a 3-sentence example of the stories parents would be asked to share.  This would provide parents a template and they would have clear expectations of how much to      share.  Having time to think about and practice their brief story in advance could make sure parents are prepared and focused on the day of the training.
  2. Visual Cues. During introductions (which sometimes went on too long and often went astray), post a flipchart in front of the room stating precisely the information each parent should share in order to introduce themselves and      a little about the reason they volunteered to participate in this orientation session.

Though the parents were well-intentioned and certainly had many experiences to share, this was not designed to be a counseling session for them to de-brief their experiences. It was designed to give new anesthesiologists a brief sampling of parents’ thoughts and concerns and how to address them.

Whether working with parents or any other subject matter expert, pre-session preparation and in-class visual cues can help to keep a lesson on track and on-time.  What strategies have you found helpful when working with SMEs?

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