In a time of high physician burnout rates, remind yourself of your calling for medicine
For many physicians there is an instinctive call to medicine and providing care for patients. As a physician, there are stresses associated with maintaining high levels of quality care, other work responsibilities, and managing social and mental health. These can cause this feeling to become blurred and unrecognizable. However, finding and maintaining a sense of purpose can help a physician excel. This benefits themselves and their patients.
Jennifer George, in a 2019 article for Physician’s Weekly, describes how she works to remind herself of her purpose daily.
“As a physiotherapist on an inpatient rehab unit, one question I ask myself before, during, and after work to ground myself is: “What is my purpose for being here today?” George says. “Imagine for a moment— when you meet with your patients and before you begin asking questions—they intently re-direct and ask, “Doctor, what is your purpose for being here today?”
Burnout and depression
According to Medscape’s National Burnout and Depression Report 2022, which included a survey of over 13,000 physicians across 29 specialties, 47-percent of participants reported feeling the symptoms of burnout on the job. Burnout can become a prime contributor to losing your sense of purpose as a medical professional, but through deeper thought you can identify the unique causes of your struggles and work to combat them.
Hillary McClafferty, MD, FAAP, in an article for the American Board of Physician Specialties recommends taking a moment to grade your feelings and how strongly you feel the purpose of your work on a scale of 1-10.
Those in the “upper half” of the scale should document what aspects of their work bring them joy. They should also include aspects that allow them to face the unique challenges of being a physician every day. Those on the opposite end of the scale should document aspects that may have impacted their sense of purpose.
“When you think about your prior sense of purpose and direction, what is different now?” McClafferty says. “Changes might include your job, the setting, the people, your support system, technology, time constraints, call schedule, sleep schedule and so on.
Once you have identified some of the differences between then and now, write them down. There are clues here. Can you identify the potential obstacles, speed bumps, or closed doors blocking your way to regaining meaning and purpose in your work life?”
These moments of introspection can help you once again find meaning in your work. This is despite the stressors of balancing a demanding profession and your personal life.
“As physicians, your patients look to you for compassionate, ethical, sound, and clinical support,” George said. “Yet, you must adapt to many different patients, caregivers, and colleagues each day. In the face of their adversities, you are the one who helps improve their lives and restore their faith in the greater system of care. This comes with great responsibility and stress, as well as profound significance.”
Feeling that you have lost your sense of purpose does not make you a bad physician. It is not a permanent feeling. With proper support and planning, you can once again regain the passion you had for your work. You can therefore continue to provide the critical care your patients need.