The winter holidays always seem like a good time to reflect on those things which are important to us, whether it's looking backwards in gratitude, being present and in the moment with those we hold dearest, or making plans for the future. Ironically, it is the hustle and bustle of those holidays that often competes for our attention and our intention to reflect can get easily left behind.
Sounds a lot like the practice of medicine these days, eh?
In the spirit of gratitude, joy, and hope, I want to stop for just a moment to reflect what I observe from my vantage point.
Gratitude – In every job I've had, there is always a choice to make: how close will I get to the people I work with and work for? In other words, what "professional boundaries" are appropriate and healthy to keep and what needs to be loosened a little to get past the sterility of "professional correctness?"
The human need to connect with each other beyond phatic communications is part of our nature and our nurturing. I am very grateful for the physicians who I have become friends with, those I feel comfortable calling by first name, even those I can be playful with about their quirks. This year, I have felt especially honored by those who were vulnerable with me about the level of pain they experience because of their profession.
Joy – I know there are probably some physicians who enjoy staying alone behind a microscope or screen, and I do not begrudge them. However, the ones I talk with most still find the relationships they build with patients and colleagues to be the most meaningful part of their work. Walking with people through the most painful and uncertain times in their life can be a deep, rich, and – dare I say – even joyful part of their vocation. How can this be true? Once again, I think it is because of powerful human interactions that somehow satisfy a part of our souls, whether in triumph or in loss.
Hope – I suppose there are some physicians who work only for their own hope of a more secure financial future. I really haven't met many. The ones I know work their tails off because they want to offer hope to their patients and communities that there is a way to live more wholly and robustly. They work to improve systems which function more efficiently and effectively and persist despite overwhelming bureaucracies to battle with. They push forward with an eye to their own health and security while keeping their overall pledge to put the patient first.
Sadly, there are also some physicians I have met who have lost all gratitude, joy, and hope in their work. It is for these that I am most concerned and I know that I interact with only a fraction of them. These are your colleagues who walk around with glassy eyed stares, present in body but not in spirit, wondering if they can keep going on.
Ultimately the greatest good I can do in my role is to encourage you all to amp up your engagement with those around you. Together, you can fight against everything that robs your work of meaningful interactions. As each of you does your part, transformation of the medical culture is possible.
Thank you all for making this work a joy for me to participate in and Happy New Year.