Leading Clinicians Back to Meaning

Every clinician has a why. A “why” they chose to work in health care. However, that “why” can get clouded over the years, lost in what feels like an ever-growing amount of administrative duties. And its disappearance can be devastating – on an episode of This Clinical Life, I spoke with Dr. Stephen Beeson on the importance of our work having meaning, especially in the face of mounting pressures and increased burnout. Our “why we do what we do” provides resistance to even the greatest challenges, keeping us more engaged and committed to our lives’ work.

As a leader in health care, keeping your team in touch with the meaning behind their work is critical, not just for the team’s performance, but for the satisfaction and happiness of individual members. For any leader, this challenge can be daunting, but I offer two simple solutions to start you on your way.

Share a Part of Yourself

The greatest place to start is by sharing your own story. Too often, we fail to share what motivates us with our team, and this comes at a detriment to those we look to lead. It creates a disconnect between you and the team, as things that motivate you may not be shared or obvious to your teammates. Providing context to what motivates you can often inspire those you lead to share in that motivation.

Outside of unifying the team, sharing what drives you also creates accountability, as each individual on the team becomes invested in the same cause. Together, you keep each other accountable to the task at hand. It also gives them an opportunity to ask what they need from you in order to commit to the cause and consistently meet expectations. By simply sharing your story, you will be able to better support your team and see the outcomes you desired from the onset of the initiative.

Looking at Initiatives through Their Eyes

For a single health system, there can be a myriad of quality improvement projects and operational initiatives being put in place. While undoubtedly critical initiatives, as leader it is important to recognize how these initiatives impact your team, both positively and negatively. It is imperative when implementing quality initiatives to take into account the well-being of your clinicians, as it will not only protect your team from burnout but also assure more consistency and success for the initiative being implemented. 

Often, doing this doesn’t require more work, but rather a shift in perspective. Looking through their eyes has the same benefits as sharing a part of yourself – you can see what they need in order to best perform the task at hand. Not only that, you can ensure the sustainability and longevity of the initiative by providing proper boundaries for your clinicians.


Ultimately, one’s “why” is unique to each person, and thus must be defined individually by every clinician. However, as a leader taking the time to explain our own “why” to our teams is a great way to spark a conversation, getting others to think of their own reasons for working in medicine. And in such a meaningful, powerful profession as medicine, no one should have to forget about the reason they do what they do.

Dr. Stef Simmons recently recorded an episode of This Clinical Life with Dr. Stephen Beeson. To listen to the full episode, click here.

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