Restoring and Inspiring Joy: A Physician’s Perspective
In my role as a physician and physician champion, I have the opportunity to exchange stories with other doctors and with members of the executive team. Besides the connections we make through the typical sharing of referrals and the more formal rounding process of navigating and implementing a new EMR, I think the informal conversations both inside and outside of work are crucial to staying connected with joy and purpose. Asking “what’s uplifting for you?” and “what gets in the way?” gives us an opportunity to focus on our own self-reflection and self-knowledge. In our pursuit of excellence, I think we have to continually reframe both our short term and longterm goals to center them on our authentic self and on alignment with our core values.
The most critical moments when we find purpose are the ones where we identify a situation in the context of 1) its contribution to our broader mission that serves as the overarching organizing principle of our lives and 2) when we see the contribution to matters that are larger than the self. The theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote, “Your vocation lies where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This perspective sustains me through some of the more menial tasks of the day and helps me find resilience when I can see the value amongst the difficult parts of the practice of medicine.
What Inspires Me and Why I Do What I Do
When I was young, I used to reflect on the number of miracles in the Bible that had to do with healing. Even though I have not spoken evangelically to patients about faith, medicine always felt like a way to make faith come alive. There are certain images seared into my brain that leave a vivid and lasting memory.
-I remember a fellow medical student crying while she washed the feet of an impoverished man in Juarez, Mexico, who had walked miles on his insensate diabetic feet to come to our rural clinic for care.
-I recall wrestling with my own futility working in a pediatric AIDS clinic in Mbabane, Swaziland. When I felt like the medicine we offered was just a drop in an ocean of need, I glimpsed the quintessence of truly selfless love when a mother, shivering in the early hours of the morning, took a blanket from me to wrap another layer around her already bundled infant.
-I recall Mother Teresa’s quote, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
-On a daily basis, I see the beauty of the moment of shared understanding when I have truly communicated with someone about the nature of their disease, and they have grasped its significance for their lives. The fight often begins for them when they can name their affliction. And, I admire the courage of those who resolve to endure the struggle for wholeness in spite of their fear of what cannot be known.
How Can We, as Physicians, Serve as Role Models of Excellence to Others?
When people come to a physician, they arrive in a position of tremendous vulnerability, looking for answers and sensing their well-being threatened. This position strips them bare to a very basic, fundamentally human level. Physicians who are role models enter the danger, the fear, and the unknown, along with the patient. People feel that type of connection intuitively, even when they can’t label what they are experiencing. They know they are being met in a way that’s very real and present. Being the model of that for the patient is to be truly intentional—assuring the patient that whatever is going to happen, they are not alone.
Ways We Can Help Each Other Reconnect With Joy and Purpose
a) Our teams and peers. Physicians have to discover how to become vulnerable in order to build trust with their teams. Teamwork can be difficult to achieve since we rely so much on reputation and on our competitive nature to achieve what we have along the journey. We have to share our experiences with one another over time and then commit not to use these vulnerabilities against one another. Using 360 degree feedback (not tied to compensation or performance) can be a great developmental tool but only if those participating do not fear repercussions.
b) Healthy conflict. We cannot fear conflict as it relates to concepts and ideas. Political debates and personal attacks are not the type of conflict that produces growth. The team loses when we suppress the debate that is essential for finding the best possible solution to challenges. It takes a strong leader to model the appropriate type of conflict behavior, an approach that leads to resolution and forward progress.
c) A commitment to hearing all opinions. Physician leaders need to ensure that everyone’s opinion on a team is heard and considered so that other team members can fully commit to decisions (even if they disagree with the conclusions). There must be a willingness to commit to a decision even when some members of a team are unsure it is correct. Have clear deadlines and delegate the spread of key decisions to the most effective communicators in an organization.
d) Be willing to hold people accountable for performance or behaviors that hurt the team. As people develop deep respect for one another, they will not want to let one another down. Be explicit on expectations for the roles of each member of the team. Shift rewards to team achievement as opposed to individual goals.
e) Growing as a team. Spend some time together with the team outside of work. This allows better focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes (other than being limited to financial metrics). Be willing to then publicly commit to these agreements. Never let the other team members see a physician leader waver from these results.
Helping Our Colleagues With Burnout
Burnout is real and present among physicians. And there are things we can do to help. Here are a few ideas:
a) Get some Headspace (see the mindfulness app in the app store).
b) Exercise…at least some…every day…about the same time if possible…no matter what.
c) Save 20% of your income every year and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. How much easier is it to go to work and be passionate when you are on the track to financial independence rather than living paycheck to paycheck?
d) Go to a conference at least once a year. It’s energizing to be surrounded by others fighting the good fight.
e) Pursue one passion outside of work.
f) Volunteer your time and/or consider teaching a medical student. Their zeal for medicine is infectious! g) Read Jane Dutton’s study from the University of Michigan about high-quality connections. The treatment of the cleaning staff by the doctors and its effect on workplace environment is enlightening. Small considerate acts that communicate a sense of value to other people revitalize employees emotionally and physically. This leads people to feel more energized, engaged, and resilient at work. When people feel like they belong, they work together more cohesively. And, we, as doctors, feel good about it too.