28 January 2011

Evaluation season

Job performance evaluations are a normal part of a practitioner’s life. The norm is to be evaluated on our medical work, of course, but this skews a bit when working as a U.S. Foreign Service nurse practitioner. In the Foreign Service, the evaluation season theoretically begins on 15 April and ends a month later, when all evaluations are to be in Washington for processing and review. This year, the already-complex system has been “electronically enhanced” to make the procedure run in a more linear, proficient manner, so, of course, we have to start much earlier. To this end, a human-resources expert came to post to teach us the new system.

Each employee, regardless of her or his actual job, has a rater and a reviewer, selected on the basis of organizational hierarchy. I am the chief of my section—medical—so my rater is the management officer, who is responsible for the embassy’s administrative function. His boss, the deputy chief of mission, who is ultimately responsible for the function of all departments of the embassy, is my reviewer. It should be noted that neither of these great guys has any idea what I do medically.

It is incumbent upon the employee to provide the rater and reviewer with a list of accomplishments that can be highlighted in the evaluation. Most of my nonmedical colleagues can speak in specifics, but I must speak in generalities or risk treading on patient confidentiality. I can offer vague statistics that are medically related or, if something is widely known, such as when the bombing happened in Islamabad, I can offer my rater more specific details. But, usually, my evaluations barely touch on the practice of medicine and I am rated more on administrative issues. There is an exception. Once, during each assignment, a regional medical officer or regional medical manager must submit a supplementary evaluation, which does address medical practice and skill.

On the surface, it might appear that there’s a lack of accountability, but that’s not really true. In Foreign Service lingo, it is called “corridor reputation,” which provides the real scoop on how an employee handles his or her responsibilities, and it has a very real effect on that person’s career. If there are problems, it will be known.

So, back to the training provided by the human-resource specialist. To illustrate how far the Foreign Service has come in performance evaluation, she handed out the single-sheet form used in 1949 for all employees. There were 16 areas of evaluation, each containing only four phrases. The rater was asked to underline the one phrase that was most descriptive and cross out the line regarded as least descriptive. Some of my favorite choices are:

  • He talks too much.
  • He lacks breadth of view.
  • He is careless in his personal habits.
  • He is too much of an individualist.
  • He lacks aggressiveness.
  • He is ingratiating.
And my personal favorite:
  • He does not wear well as one knows him better!
I’m grateful to say that the evaluation process has progressed light years from this type of appraisal. One other thing: Note that all the phrases begin with he. In 1949, women did not serve in the U.S. Foreign Service. That change might be the greatest advancement of all!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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