As a pediatrician, you’d think that I’d be a pro at celebrating growth. After all, I celebrate the growth of children in the office as they meet their developmental milestones and grow physically. I celebrate their academic and social growth.
What I hadn’t celebrated: my own growth. I thought for years that I was beyond that. Even my own professional growth had become tedious: Check the boxes on CME credits earned and online training to be completed to show that I had completed it, not necessarily about how it fulfilled my needs.
I was a physician robot. I went to work, saw the patients, focused on their needs more than my own, completed the charts when I could, and then went home to find I was utterly exhausted and had no energy left over to celebrate their growth.
All I heard was how I wasn’t seeing enough patients, not seeing them fast enough, and how there were more charts to be completed. I heard externally and internally how I wasn’t enough.
There’s nothing to celebrate when all you hear from others is how you don’t measure up and start telling yourself that too.
I hit the proverbial wall. I just couldn’t fathom doing more when I was never enough.
So I didn’t do more. I took time off. I enjoyed not having the pressures, but I truly missed medical practice. I learned that I missed the parts that were meaningful to me: the connection, the joy, the laughter, and celebrating growth.
So I decided to start focusing on what was meaningful in medical practice. This was what had been missing: family, connection, joy, and growth, all values of mine.
As I returned to medical practice, I decided that I would not practice in a way that didn’t connect to patients in my office and myself. And truthfully, the latter came first. I started practicing in a way that was authentic to me. Connecting to me meant that my practice would fuel me (with joy and connection) more than it depleted me.
I would show up and joke around, I would see patients one at a time instead of seeing the deluge of folks who had walked into the door at urgent care. I would take the time to connect with patients in the office and make sure that the computer was functioning in the room so I could chart directly into the system while we were connecting, talking, and laughing. The patients were astounded by my typing while they talked, and I talked, and I admitted to them that this was how I made sure I got their story right, the orders done, and the chart done when they left the room. What was right by them was also right by me because when they left, so did any attachment I had to their care. I was free to focus on creating a connection with the next patient.
Meanwhile, I heard others “encouraging” me to see more and more patients per hour while they lamented having hours of charting to do after work.
I decided to focus on what was working for me: joy, connection, and charting while the patient is in the room. And I practiced that, focusing on what was important instead of the external pressures.
I now celebrate that practice is paying off. Yesterday, I saw more patients than I have in one day at this location. Actually, I saw more patients than I ever have in 1 day (except one, and that’s a story for another day about Puppy Mill Pediatrics). I celebrate that triumph for seeing a large number of patients; even more, every chart was done when the patient left. When my last patient left, I left with nothing else to do. And most importantly, my heart was full of joy.
I made important connections with my patients, staff, and myself.
That was the fuel for my entire day. I focused on the joy and connection; the rest just didn’t matter. I could keep going because my own values fueled me.
Dude, I was tired. Exhausted, yet exhausted from knowing I had done something to celebrate. I picked up my son after work, and we celebrated together.
We can do hard things. Physicians work hard. Hard work doesn’t lead to burnout. It’s when we are working in a way that doesn’t actually fuel us, our priorities, or our values.
It’s not the volume that I celebrate. I celebrate my own growth: I have been able to practice my way and still become more effective and efficient along the way. I realize not every day will have the highest number of patients seen, but the growth is seeing what works and which parts I want to keep repeating.
Wendy Schofer is a pediatrician.
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