Dear resident physicians:
Soon you’ll finish residency, and you may be wondering what’s next. Some of you will start fellowships, but most of you will practice your specialty. You may be looking for opportunities that are a good match with your needs and wants. Virtually all of you are looking forward to greater income. I hope that this ending is also a beginning – a renewal of your commitment to the life-long learning that is medicine.
One of the current concerns of our society is the possibility of a physician shortage. Some of that shortfall is attributed to a mass exodus of physicians experiencing “burnout.” Pervasive pessimism is the rule. It’s time to break the rule. You can thrive, not just survive.
Mahatma Gandhi made it his mission to spread the word. John C. Maxwell built an empire on the concept. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired it in multitudes. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner [When Bad Things Happen to Good People] became an authority on the topic. It exalted Mother Teresa to sainthood. Dr. Francis W. Peabody described it in a paper which has become the most cited, most revered article in the medical literature.
All these people achieved success, renowned for their leadership. In each, that leadership was born of servanthood.
Robert K. Greenleaf is credited with launching the modern movement of servant leadership, starting with the 1970 publication of his classic essay “The Servant as Leader.” He coined the terms servant leader and servant leadership. The servant’s heart is a fundamental characteristic of a servant leader – helpless to do anything but give. Adding the conscious choice to serve will ignite a fervent ambition to lead. It contrasts with those who want to be leaders just to experience power or acquire material possessions.
The servant meets the needs of family (including self), patients, colleagues, and community. You will see those you serve grow as persons, becoming healthier, wiser, and more autonomous. You’ll experience the soul-deep fulfillment, which is pure gratitude.
Serving isn’t about being servile, or about false humility. It does not mean being submissive or weak. It does not mean dictating or dominating. It does not mean self-denial or neglecting family. One of the most important ways you serve your patients will be as a living example. Care for you and your family first, whatever constitutes family to you. Work with intention. Eat good food, exercise, play, rest, and explore what spirituality means to you.
These wise words of our heroes are both encouraging and a radical challenge:
Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
John C. Maxwell: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner: “Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people brings happiness.”
Mother Teresa: “Three things in life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
Francis W. Peabody: “The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”
Faith A. Coleman: “It is not possible to give your patients more than your patients have already given you.” [Disclaimer: I do not attribute to myself the leadership or greatness of the people quoted above.]
All that being said – don’t take yourself too seriously.
Faith A. Coleman is a family physician.
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