You have more power than you realize.
It’s no secret that medical providers feel structurally powerless in our chaotic health care system. Control over the volume, pace, and elements of our work often rests squarely in the hands of others. But know this: Your own personal power over your work remains formidable and fully intact.
If you’re stressed out, burning out, and dreading Mondays, you have the power to make quality decisions about your work and life — decisions that honor who you are and what you want. Imagine waking up excited to do work that gives you joy, not despair. Imagine work that promotes happiness and wellbeing, not stress and impairment. As a health expert, surely you deserve healthy work.
What is personal power? Personal power is getting very clear about what you want for your work, deciding to aggressively pursue it, and seizing the resources and support that you need to make the necessary changes — just as you did when you embarked on your medical career.
Here’s one example of personal power in action:
An employed internist had been working solo for several years in a novel Medicare-only practice. Her patients were overwhelmingly frail elderly with copious medical problems.
She loved her patients but struggled mightily, battling an unreasonable daily schedule template to responsibly manage such a complex patient population. She was also denied adequate staff support. She repeatedly voiced her concerns to her administration, but they were continually rebuffed and chronically dismissed. Month after month and year after year, nothing changed except her increasing workload and stress. She was structurally powerless.
Then one day, in the middle of clinic, she went to her office, slung her purse over her shoulder, and walked straight out the door without a word.
That’s personal power. That doctor made a firm decision about her work and life — a decision that honored her wellbeing. Extreme? Yes. Necessary? She felt it was the only way to finally be heard and to preserve her sanity. She went on to find new and better-fitting work.
Most clinicians desire power over their work. Nearly a third of physicians in this year’s Medscape National Burnout and Suicide Report cited lack of control and autonomy as contributing most to their burnout.
How do you reclaim your personal power? It’s not meant to be yet another rote task on your already unmanageable “To-Do” list. No. Reclaiming your personal power is a thrilling invitation to reconnect with the desires that energize and stimulate you.
Reclaiming your personal power is not a matter of valiantly mustering up strength but simply uncovering and revealing the strength that has always been there. Divesting yourself of limiting thoughts about your work liberates strength and frees you to make the changes you need.
Renew ownership over your work by honestly answering these critical questions:
Is your job healthy? How is it affecting you physically, emotionally, cognitively, relationally, and spiritually?
Do you deserve to be happy and healthy? Or does your duty as a health care professional preclude you from having healthy work that brings you joy?
What’s trapping you in your stressful job? We cover our kids’ tuition, our own school debt, health insurance, and family members’ needs. But decision precedes planning, not the other way around. Remember all the sacrifices you made before and during training? You moved mountains to achieve your profession because you decided to. So now, after deciding you need to make changes in your work, which obligations are truly fixed, and which are malleable?
Are you aware that you don’t have to work 30 years straight in clinical medicine unless you want to? Your career does not have to be linear to have great merit and value. There is more “out there” if you want it.
What work do you really want to do? If you’re not clear on what you want, fruitful change is impossible.
What are the precious hours of your life worth? You witness the brevity of life regularly — what kind of impact must your life have?
Let me share three suggestions for the answers you discover.
First, heed them as critical beacons for you. Next, share them with someone in the next 48 hours: a friend, partner, colleague, coach, or other professional. We often feel that we don’t need the help and support of other people. But walking alone limits the distance we can travel as well as the appreciation of the view. Lastly, decide this week to make one change that best supports you. This change can be small; you don’t have to walk out of clinic at midday. But change must happen for you to get closer to the happy and healthy Mondays you deserve.
Medical providers may feel structurally powerless, but you are personally powerful. You can clarify what you want for your work, decide to pursue it, and seize the resources and support that you need to make the changes you want.
You have far more power than you realize.
Cathy Woodhouse is an internal medicine physician.
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