The answer to physician burnout is purported to be resilience training. That’s like glorifying the natural ability of frogs to tolerate gradually heating and boiling water.
Unfortunately, health care today has some toxic ingredients, and physician burnout is directly related to them. Some forms of resilience training I have been exposed to are no more than mental escapes away from medicine, such as art, music, and personal relationships.
Those types of activities may in some way, for some people, balance the toxicity that has infiltrated our workplaces, but they don’t change the fact that every day as a practicing physician could be hazardous to one’s mental, or even physical, health.
It’s fine to have a rich and rewarding life outside of medicine, but that doesn’t negate the fact that medicine could and should be a rewarding career and calling in and of itself, too.
There is a different kind of resiliency that should be promoted and cultivated. That is the professional resiliency that comes from embracing the true, timeless, and archetypal role of the physician. Every time we make someone feel better, every time we comfort or instill hope, every time we empower a fellow human being to take steps toward a better life, we need to, humbly, celebrate our accomplishment.
Yes, we get points for also clicking the box about what counseling was provided; yes, we get points if we printed the hokey patient education page from the EMR; yes, we need to submit our superbill right away, and we’re supposed to finish our documentation within 72 hours. Most of the time I get those things done, even if it is in my barn-office at 5 a.m. or by the fireplace with a glass of wine when everyone else is asleep, but, you know what – I have a job that matters, and I’d rather be doing this than anything else.
And I’m a constant, pesky reminder about the need to automate some of those mundane clerical tasks.
Keeping the focus on what really matters is a form of professional resilience. That, ultimately, means more than personal resilience, because the latter could result in some of us leaving our careers because we don’t see the value in what we are asked to do.
Administrators and insurers want a lot from us, but if we don’t listen to and communicate effectively and in a healing manner with our patients, there will be nothing for the big guys to micromanage.
We are doctors. Let us not forget that.
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