As Physicians Week and Doctors’ Day approach, I’m getting ready for the flurry of posts and memes that get shared on social media about the appreciation being extended to us. Whether it is from our patients, colleagues, or administration, the common theme seems to be: the pizza delivery to the breakroom (getting cold while I run around hair-on-fire seeing all the patients) and the CEO emailing, “Thank You, Providers” is not what we need.
Merriam-Webster defines appreciation as a feeling or expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude.
What does it mean to receive appreciation, let alone feel appreciated, as we often report not feeling appreciated as physicians in this current environment?
I think of appreciation as an offering of love in which someone is acknowledged or seen. This acknowledgment is fulfilling the psychological need for belonging and love. The connection to love makes me think of Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. Chapman noted patterns within couples he was counseling. He realized that the individuals were misunderstanding each other’s needs. In his book, he outlines how there tend to be five general themes for expressing and anticipating expressions of affection: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and receiving gifts.
We all tend to have one to two main themes of expressing and receiving love. And don’t worry, I’m not anticipating expressions of physical touch at work.
And yet, I realize how the most challenging thing for me as a pediatrician early in the pandemic was the lack of physical touch. Prior to 2020, I had regularly offered mothers a hug in solidarity and compassion, regulating nervous systems (both mine and theirs) through touch. And I never turned down a hug from a child. I missed that physical touch so much when the masks went on, and we kept touch to the bare minimum. The days of the pandemic got longer and colder as I recognized the change: I felt disconnected from what was important.
I remember the pizzas and Girl Scout cookies sent in appreciation from the community during the pandemic. They didn’t cut it for me. As time and the pandemic wore on, I felt less appreciated.
It got me thinking: How do I like to express and receive appreciation?
I will regularly recognize people during my daily commute or walking through the clinic. I recognize their actions and who they are. My main love language is words of affirmation, with a very close second of physical touch. Good to know. I have collected sweet cards from patients over the years, and find that a family’s request to have me see them over and over again speaks volumes to my heart.
We can all come up with our ideal ways to receive appreciation: a gift or a day off. A heartfelt thank you card or hug. But notice how we can’t just put in a request from others to meet our “appreciation language” needs.
And yet, there’s something more: something that is always available and not dependent upon the words of the CEO, not waiting for Doctors’ Day:
It’s time to start appreciating what we offer, to ourselves, our patients, our families, and our communities. It’s time to acknowledge that we long to feel genuinely appreciated, and appreciation starts with us.
We can remind ourselves of what we appreciate about ourselves: that’s how we feel appreciated without depending upon someone else. The story of appreciation we tell creates a feeling of appreciation.
“I totally nailed that diagnosis.”
“I have learned so much this year.”
“I’m getting faster.”
“I completed the note during the visit.”
“They received the care they needed today.”
“Today, I’m being the person I want to be.”
“I was the perfect doctor to take care of that patient.”
“I’m glad I took a walk in the sun for a few minutes over lunch.”
And there is no better place to create that story than right here with you.
How can you admire and offer gratitude to yourself for your beautiful contributions to the world? How can you offer yourself appreciation for the person you are and the doctor you have become? How can you receive appreciation for how you have persisted, fallen, triumphed, and survived?
Get yourself the gift you want: Write love notes to yourself, treat yourself to a bear hug or a massage, take a walk in the sun, tell yourself how f’ing amazing you are and how the world is so much better with you in it. Appreciate yourself. Acknowledge yourself.
As long as we seek gratitude and appreciation from others, we gamble on what we may receive. You will be missing a wellspring of appreciation from within.
Wendy Schofer is a pediatrician.