The Questions You Should Never Ask   1 comment


While at a social event recently I bumped into a woman I had not seen in a number of years. As often happens, our discussion got around to etiquette and rude behavior. She told me that when she was pregnant for one of her children (who are now grown) someone asked her if her pregnancy was planned. She said she was dumb stuck and very offended. So offended, she has never forgotten the incident.

This started me thinking of some of the questions people ask, not intending to be rude, but are.

  • How old are you?

  • You only have one child, do you intend to have others?

  • Why don’t you have any children?

  • Was your pregnancy planned?

  • How much weight have you lost?

  • How much weight have you gained?

  • You look tired, are you?

  • How much money do you make?

  • What did you pay for that?

  • Are you pregnant?

All of these questions fall into the category of personal and private decisions, for an individual or a couple…decisions that are private unless they choose to offer the information. Let that be your guide before you ask a question and insert your foot.

What are some of the questions you’ve been asked that offended you?


Physicians Need Good Table Manners Too   Leave a comment


A few years ago I was engaged by the director of a medical residency program in my community to teach the program residents table manners. Now, you may wonder why medical residents need to know how to navigate a dining table gracefully. But good table manners are a must for professionals in any arena.

The director of the program stated that she felt some of the residents were lacking in good table manners and that this could be a huge turn off for potential candidates considering the program. The senior residents did a lot of interviewing and answering questions of the medical students considering this program, over a meal. If a certain level of sophistication wasn’t displayed she was concerned that the program would lose people to more metropolitan areas that were perceived to be more sophisticated and have more to offer.

I couldn’t agree more with her line of thinking, but not only interviewing potential people for a residency program…consider the residents who are being interviewed for jobs in medical groups after they finish their training. Many of those interviews are conducted over a meal. Poor social skills may be a liability, in spite of technical skills.

Also, physicians participate in lots of board and committee meetings that involve meals. Being the guy who is splayed all over the table acting like it is his last meal is a real turn off.

So, along with knowing how to handle a scalpel, knowing how to manage a knife and fork gracefully, will be to any physician’s advantage.


Here are some of my top dining tips:

  1. Assess the table and pause before picking up any silver. Wait for your host or hostess or senior person at the table to start the meal.
  1. Open your hands, palms up. Place the knife and fork on the open hands. Let half of the handle rest on the palm of each hand; turn the implements over and leverage the knife and fork with your index fingers.
  1. Eating in the American or Continental fashion is acceptable in America today.
  1. Don’t gesture with your knife and fork.
  1. Cut one bite at a time.
  1. Put napkin on lap to unfold. When leaving the table temporarily, place the napkin on the chair. At the end of the meal, place napkin to the left of plate.
  1. The soup spoon is held like a pencil.
  1. Soup is spooned away from you toward the center of the soup plate. Sip off the side of the spoon.
  2. The soup plate may be tipped away from you in order to fill the spoon with the last sips of soup.
  1. Do not blow on soup or stir it if it is too hot. Skim off the top or wait until soup cools.
  1. Refrain from putting crackers in your soup when out or at a formal meal.
  1. The soup spoon may rest in the soup plate when finished or in between bites. The spoon rests on the saucer when it comes in a cup.
  1. When encountering a multi-course meal with multiple pieces of flat ware and you are questioning what fork to use first, start from the outside and work in toward the plate.
  1. Solids are on the left of your dinner plate, such as, bread and butter plate and liquids are on the right.
  1. Break bread in bite size pieces and butter one bite at a time over the bread and butter plate.
  1. Pass food to the right. If you start the food, take your portion when it comes back around to you.
  1. Taste your food before seasoning it.
  1. When someone asks for the salt, pass both the salt and pepper in anticipation of their need. Set it on the table in front of them and let them pick it up.
  1. Keep personal items such as; purses, glasses, cell telephones, etc. off the table. Purses should stay on your lap or under the chair.
  1. Refrain from putting on make-up, combing hair, picking teeth, blowing nose vigorously at the table. “If you do it the bathroom, don’t do it at the table.”
  1. If someone offers a toast to you do not drink to yourself.
  1. When offering a toast, remember to be appropriate for the audience and be brief. It’s a toast not a roast.
  1. If in doubt about what to do, watch someone at the table who knows. It can prevent an embarrassing situation.
  1. When leaving the table temporarily do not announce where you are going; just say, “Excuse me.”
  1. Chew with your mouth closed. Take small bites to avoid talking with food in your mouth.
  1. Try a little of everything presented unless you are allergic to a certain food.
  1. Don’t talk about food likes and dislikes at the table.
  1. Maintain good posture at the table. Keep arms and elbows off the table.
  1. Don’t push your plate away from you when finished eating and wait for everyone to finish before plates are cleared.

Reproduction of this material without prior authorization from Professional Courtesy, LLC is strictly prohibited.1/20/2014


How to Eat Pasta   2 comments

 images (8)


There is a debate about how to eat pasta, even among etiquette experts. I have seen both methods listed as “correct” in American etiquette books. And I too, have seen both methods of eating spaghetti while dining with others. I am not offended when people use the bowl of the spoon to twirl the strands of pasta. However, if you were in Italy or asked an Italian how to eat long strands of pasta, he or she would tell you the only correct way is to eat it with a fork only. Italians consider eating pasta with a fork and a spoon for children, amateurs or people with bad table manners. So, it is up to you as to how you eat your pasta; the American way, with a spoon and fork, or the Italian way, with only a fork. Or consider the old adage, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

If you are going to use the fork only method, pull a few strands of pasta to the side of the plate or edge of the pasta bowl and twirl the strands around the tines of the fork, with the fork tines perpendicular to the plate, and then convey the pasta to your mouth. You may want to have your napkin poised and ready to collect any errant drops of sauce from dropping on your clothes. Bibs are a no-no when eating pasta, unless you are a child. And you would not cut the pasta in polite company.

It is important to gauge when and with whom you will be eating pasta. If you can’t eat it with confidence and without getting it all over yourself, choose something else to order — you may make a better impression.

So, how do you eat your pasta?

Keeping Your Patients Well Informed   2 comments


Keeping Your Patients Well Informed


Are you giving your patients adequate information after a surgery or a major procedure? It may be time to re-evaluate your patient education materials and or the way you respond to patient questions.

Post-op and post procedural care is so important to patient outcome and success. And I am often surprised when I hear from family members and friends that they didn’t get adequate information or adequate answers to their questions about recovery expectations.

What may seem obvious to medical people may not seem at all obvious to a patient without any medical background who is experiencing something way out of their comfort zone or area of expertise.

Responding to the question, “when can I expect to start exercising after my surgery?” with “whenever you feel like it,” doesn’t seem to be a good enough response to me. Surely adding some time frame to that response would be more helpful. How about giving the typical recovery time and go from there. Certainly, a patient’s age, general health status and many other factors make each case different, but in the case of patient information, “more is more.”

Take a look at your material, evaluate it and look at it from the perspective of a non-medical person and see if it answers the repeated questions that you get from your patients. If you are getting lots of calls after procedures from your patients with lots of questions, then your material probably isn’t doing the job.

Here are a few things to consider when developing patient information material:

  • Develop a check list as to what material is given and by whom, to your patients post surgically and post procedural.

  • Designate a specific person in your office to deliver the information and take the calls after the procedure is over. Giving their name and extension number can save a lot of frustration for the patient who might otherwise have to navigate a difficult phone tree.

  • Address the most common issues that can go wrong after a certain procedure and what the patient should do about it.

  • Define clear expectations for optimal recovery. For instance, how much physical therapy is going to be needed to get back up to speed.

  • Be clear about pain medication; how to take it to get the maximum benefit. And how to get refills if allowed and needed.

  • Educate the patient on signs of infection and any other serious things that can go wrong after a procedure.

  • List limitations and general time frame for those limitations.

  • Make sure the patient has adequate help at home. If they don’t, social services may need to be brought in to evaluate things.

This list could go on and on, but most importantly be open to patient questions. Try to anticipate what could come up and treat patient questions the way you’d like your questions treated in the same situation…with respect. There are no dumb questions in this case.

Do you wish you would have had better information from your physician after a surgery? If so, what?


Modern Medical Attire   3 comments

It has been said, that the way we are dressed can influence the way we work and how we are perceived by others. This point was made when my colleague and fellow medical etiquette trainer, Darlene Das in Hendersonville, N.C. took her husband’s office staff from looking unremarkable to looking great with some changes in the way the entire office dressed.

She and the staff shared their before and after photos. Looking good, Darlene. Darlene can be found at’





Just as in any other arena, the dress for medical people has changed dramatically over the years. The traditional white uniform with white hose and a nursing cap is rarely seen anymore. Those crisp white uniforms have given way to “scrubs.” 

While scrubs may be more comfortable than uniforms of the past, they make it more difficult to look tidy and to identify your position in a hospital or office. So, a good way for the public to know if you are nursing staff or cleaning or dietary staff is to color code each department and post the color key in patient’s rooms and in patient info material.

One of the most important ideas of uniforms is to let the public know who you are, that you are at work, not at play, that you are not some stranger off the street who comes into a patient room in the middle of the night. In short, you should look like what you do and who you are.

Here are some basic tips for dressing in the medical arena today:

  • Establish well-defined dress codes and enforce them.
  • Be clean and well-groomed. Shorter fingernails are more professional and more hygienic. Save nail art and dramatic nail color for social situations.
  • Keep hair up and out-of-the-way. And keep make-up subtle.
  • Keep fragrances to a minimum.
  • Make sure your clothes fit well. Well fitting clothes are a benefit to everyone, no matter the size.
  • Keep clothes well maintained and pressed.
  • Panty hose should be worn with skirts, bare legs are unprofessional.
  • Invest in, and use a full length mirror before leaving the house.
  • Wearing pants may not be flattering to all women. If that is the case, consider a uniform with a skirt.
  • Avoid quirky and cartoon prints. Solid colors are often more flattering than prints.
  • Adding Jackets and blazers give an air of authority and professionalism to men and women.
  • Wear identification badges on right shoulder so they are easily seen (first names only may be necessary for security reasons). Reinforce identification with a verbal introduction.
  • Save athletic shoes for athletics. Wear clean, polished, professional shoes. No sandals or Crocs.
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum.
  • Avoid chewing gum…it isn’t professional in any setting.

Individuals in administrative positions or positions that do not require a uniform, including physicians, should use care to look professional and well-groomed. It is just as important as those requiring a uniform.

What is your office or hospital doing to make staff look more professional?

Seek Patient Permission   2 comments

Seek Patient Permission

 physician and patient

It is not unusual for physicians to be shadowed by all sorts of people. Sometimes, college students will seek out summer jobs in a physician’s office to see if they want to consider a career in medicine or even, nursing. Med students will follow physicians for a period of time to gain some practical experience in their field or specialty. And certainly, in teaching hospitals, is very common for a group of students and physicians to round on patients.

However, regardless of who is following or shadowing the physician, there are some important considerations to be observed.

  • Be sure and seek the patient’s permission before bringing an unexpected person into the patient exam room.

  • Introduce those who are following the physician and let the patient know who they are, and why they are there.

  • Seek patient permission before allowing a student or intern to do a procedure on a patient.

  • Respect the patients right to decline having someone else in the room during their exam or do a procedure on them.

  • Train the people following the physician in patient privacy guidelines.

  • Limit the number people allowed to follow the physician at any one time.

Always remember to put yourself in the patients position. If you were in the same situation would you want to be exposed to crowd? Being naked in a crowd can be a humbling experience for anyone.

National Peanut Butter Day   1 comment

My Favorite Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe


I have been making this peanut butter cookie recipe for years and I think it is one of the best.

So, in  honor of National Peanut Butter Day I am sharing my recipe with you. Enjoy!

1 cup shortening, half butter

1 cup white sugar

1 cup peanut butter (use crunchy if you like nuts in it)

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 ½ cups bread flour

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. soda

Cream butter, sugar and peanut butter, add unbeaten eggs. Beat well. Add sifted flour, soda and salt. Mix well. Form into walnut size balls and flatten with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes @ 350 degrees.

Posted January 24, 2014 by karenhickman in Uncategorized


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