I, as a practicing family physician, have recently been contemplating the subject of joy in the practice of medicine. Now for some of you (in and outside of the field of medicine), this may seem like an oxymoron. Between prior authorizations, increasing government regulations, electronic health records, inefficient bureaucracy and difficult patients, there are days where it can truly feel like there is little joy in medicine. These days can be soul sucking, gut wrenching, and make you (and me) question what we are even doing in this once noble field.
I remember when I got into medical school, I was so excited. I felt an overwhelming joy (and fear) about the opportunity to be responsible for the health of another person. I, who was a teacher at the time, was so excited to actually make a difference! (Apparently, molding young minds wasn’t doing enough.) I saw medicine as so different from teaching. I was naive enough to think that I was going to become a doctor and leave behind mundane paperwork, pointless meetings, and ridiculous mandates. I imagined that I would arrive to medical school, and immediately begin saving lives. (I can’t even imagine now, what I thought I would be doing as a first year medical student, that would have even remotely been considered life saving, but that was what I thought).
Now, several years after completion of a residency in family medicine, working in private practice as a hospital-employed physician, I have found days where I feel jaded about the practice of medicine, and often joyless about my role in our current medical system. It’s all I can do to avoid rolling my eyes when someone talks to me about a new insurer requiring yearly 360 exams, or the patient of mine who went to the emergency department demanding Percocet for their wrist pain (and claimed I sent them there for the prescription), or the explanation for why one patient was told they couldn’t have an appointment and another was scheduled twice in the same morning (yes in the same morning). Add to that stressors at home (and what physician doesn't have those), and it can feel like this profession that we would have killed for has become a joyless burden. We feel tricked. After spending over a decade and several hundred thousand dollars to get this coveted career, we are trapped by the mundane tasks listed above. I dare say, some of of us have come to hate our current career. (At least some days).
But I have found, that no matter how terrible my day, how annoying the paperwork, how disappointing the outcomes, there is something I can do that will turn my day around. Simple acts of kindness GIVE ME JOY. Sometimes its something a small as stopping to give a patient a hug who is having a hard day. Other times, it is checking in on a friend and coworker. Some days involve buying lunch (since as a southern girl food is love, but as a physician time is scarce). Other times it is hearing a need, and meeting that need for someone who doesn’t expect it. Often times, the act is anonymous. I have found that, whenever I take take a moment to take the spotlight off myself, and put it on someone else in a way that improves their circumstance even a little, my day is better. Even if nothing changes about my day at that moment, I feel find I have a more positive outlook and a more pleasant demeanor about whatever is going on that day.
More than that, I have found that when you put out positive energy into the universe in the form of random acts of kindness, you get positive energy in return! I can’t tell you the amount of random, unexpected nice things that have happened to me when I least expected it. I have the secret joy of waiting for the next unexpected good thing to happen. It’s the gift I give to myself!
So I would like to have you test out my theory. Try doing something nice, no matter how small, every day for 1 week. At the end of that week, let me know what happened! I cant wait!