Ask a clinician who they can impact during their day, and you may hear something along the lines of “my patients” or “my team.” Rarely will you hear a clinician say themself, yet that is the one person that may need the most impact. While the majority of drivers behind clinician burnout are operational, we DO need to be as intentional in how we treat ourselves as we are in patient care. After training in a system that requires self-abnegation and practicing in environments that demand more to be done faster and better, it can be very difficult to tap into the need for self-care.
We need to be as intentional about the way we treat ourselves as we do others because it is from us that our strength, kindness, compassion, and care spring. There’s a reason cars come with gas gauges – after that gauge hits empty, the car will stop. Similarly, we clinicians have a limit. A limit on the stress we can endure, the problems we can take on, and the work we can accomplish in a day. It is critically important to offset these burdens with what makes the work meaningful for us. That can look like:
1. Spending a little more time with patients – if you’re like me and value the relationship built with patients, asking more “get to know you” questions can go a long way to fulfilling those positive patient interactions and improving your treatment plan.
2. Getting more involved with your team – Collaboration is the greatest strength of medicine. Involving your team in decisions, being open to giving and receiving feedback, and just being there for each other all help to create a safety net for yourself and others while also greatly improving patient outcomes.
What this exactly looks like depends on where you find meaning, but in every case, you must give yourself grace in your work. We tend to focus on the stress and issues we handle daily, yet that only masks the true extent of the burden we face. It’s easy to get sucked into what needs to get done every day, especially in a profession that is as meaningful and service-oriented as medicine. After all, it is that call to service and meaning that so many of us answered when coming into the field. However, we all must hold ourselves and others accountable to take moments to ensure we can still access our meaning. Our meaning acts as a well from which we access empathy and compassion, and if we don’t protect it, our well can run dry.
As a fellow clinician, I urge you to take time today to reflect on your meaning. By identifying your meaning, you can feed into it, creating more fulfillment in your work, and protect it, ensuring longevity for your career. For both cases, “future you” will be grateful that you took the time today to be intentional with yourself.
As a healthcare leader, I urge other leaders to recognize that the extremes to which clinicians go to care for patients and their communities may mean that they are running on empty.
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Stefanie Simmons, MD, FACEP is the VP of patient and clinician engagement at Envision Physician Services. She served as University of Michigan/St. Joseph Mercy core faculty and coordinated collaborative care between APPs and physicians. Currently Dr. Simmons contributes to emergency medicine, high performing teams, and clinician self-care curriculum.