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Spanning the spectrum of meaning from the legal to the very personal, your signature has significance, as it is understood by many to represent one’s self in a way that few other symbols can. Boiling the world around you down into a simple mark, scribble, or name – your signature represents your work, your agreement, and in a nutshell – you.

Taken literally, I suppose a signature really is no big deal. I mean, signatures can be forged, they can be easily reproduced into various forms of media, and everyone has one – so it really isn’t in their rarity that their value is created. It’s who and what a signature represents that is important, and why the meaning behind signatures has such deep implications for our personal and professional lives.

In healthcare, the “what” and the “who” behind the care that is delivered are tremendously personal, extremely important, and are rarely taken lightly by either the provider or the recipient of the services – and it’s the reason that I believe the signature goes far beyond pen and paper in our world.

My entry into the healthcare industry was as an athletic trainer. Most people who follow sports to any extent know that athletic trainers provide a number of first aid, rehabilitation, and injury prevention services to athletes in a variety of sports and settings. Most notable of the athletic trainer however, is one role that few other professions master in quite the same way – the taping of an ankle.

Every single athletic trainer on the face of this planet can tape an ankle. The reason is simply that it is one of the hallmarks – or “signatures” of the athletic trainer regardless of who you are or where you practice. Athletes that have spent any time at all in sports are able to identify good athletic trainers from bad, and their first glimpse into the trust and respect that they can hold for the athletic trainer comes with the application of the first strip of adhesive placed on the ankle.

When I was training to become an athletic trainer, my mentor told me very bluntly, “Your tape job is your signature. Everything from the time it takes you to complete the tape job, to the tension that you apply to the tape, to each and every wrinkle that exists when you are done, will be the ‘sign’ of your work. And this is what will bring athletes back to see you, or make them look for someone else.”

This really stuck with me, as I immediately recognized that taping an ankle was actually quite a bit more than a repetitive act that I would be performing dozens of times per day. It was a distinct trademark that I was stamping on each athlete that I encountered, and was a representation of my quality of work, my training, and my expertise. It was, in essence, me in a nutshell – my signature.

And this is just one example. In healthcare, I believe we can dissect each and every one of our daily tasks into a number of “signature” products and services that we are known for. It could be the grip of our handshake, or the way our receptionist answers the phone that makes our patients feel warmly received into our care. On the flip side, it could be that we always take more than a day to respond to a phone inquiry, or the fact that we forget to tell our patients how much we care about them that causes them to wonder if they are our priority.

In healthcare, signatures exist far more commonly than the mere scribble that may be found at the end of a SOAP note or insurance contract. Our signatures are everywhere, and they carry great meaning to those that evaluate these symbols as representations of who we are and what value we provide.

In an increasingly competitive market, the representation of our value is of paramount importance – much more so I would argue, than the fear I once had of leaving an athlete dissatisfied with the way I taped their ankle. The implications of our signatures have powerful qualitative and economic ramifications, and we are wise to understand those elements that create the signatures that represent our work each and every day.