Within our careers, we shouldn’t just be surviving. We need to be thriving.
And that means daily and long-term investments in our personal well-being.
Medicine is inherently stressful. But by prioritizing ourselves daily, burnout can become less frequent and less severe.
This involves a personal exploration of our personal, financial, and practice lives.
This ensures that when we are on the job, we are performing at our best throughout our careers.
But most importantly, it ensures we are at our happiest.
Life is simply too short for anything less.
In the First and Second World Wars, many young people voluntarily joined the army, navy, or air force because they believed in the cause: the greater good, or what would be at stake if they didn’t fight.
Even for drafted soldiers, for them to sacrifice their personal comfort, safety, or even their life, the cause had to be greater than their pay. This has held true repeatedly throughout history.
Is modern-day medical practice all that different?
There are military-reminiscent overt and covert pecking orders in healthcare’s highly structured hierarchy, wherein all must strictly follow protocol and orders from superiors and higher authorities.
But as effective leaders, let’s not forget that these individuals chose to join the ranks in the front line.
And more importantly, they chose to join your team.
We need to lead them like a voluntary army.
Why? Because at the end of the day, they all have a choice: to stay, or to quit and join another team somewhere else!
Vulnerability. What a foreign and dangerous concept in medical culture!
In the CBC Radio show White Coat, Black Art, Dr. Brian Goldman shocked the world by disclosing how he killed a patient via clinical error. He shared that the toughest thing in a physician’s life is to stand faulty or guilty in front of their peers.
In the name of professionalism, we become experts in hiding our feelings, inner voices, issues, and problems.
This kind of toxic, perfectionistic, and hostile shaming culture pervades clinical settings and academia alike. By covering up our mistakes, we inadvertently create more problems—which only lead to worse clinical outcomes, College complaints, or even lawsuits.
I know we’re still very far away from rewriting medical culture as a whole.
As leaders within our own teams, we can create and foster a culture of vulnerability by:
Authenticity has been a real buzzword lately, notably on social media where anyone can hide behind the façade of a manufactured identity. Even in our daily lives, people may look good and act kind without being genuine or authentic. As leaders of the next generation, we need to be cognizant that they are particularly sensitive to how genuine the “grownups” are.
Our fast-paced, convenience-based culture doesn’t help the situation either. When we say “How are you?” while passing by an acquaintance or stranger, do we really mean it?
In the high-conformity clinical environment, subordinates are seldom allowed differing ideas or thoughts. For example, they must laugh at their superior’s jokes, even if they’re not funny!
How can a team be fully effective and release their full potential if no one feels safe to be themselves?
Here are some conditions for a culture of authenticity...
Everyone thought I was crazy. My preceptors and fellow residents shook their heads and laughed.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“What’s the rush?”
But I didn’t laugh. I was broke and stressed about money.
With three young children and my wife years away from completing her own residency, I was in a rush to pay off our $300,000 in loans.
My accountant didn’t laugh either. He thought it was a great idea.
I incorporated it before my first day of practice.
Then using dividends, I rapidly paid back those loans.
And it all started with the “dumb” question I asked my accountant.
The questions you don’t ask, you don’t get answers to.
As physicians, we are intellectually minded, competitive, and perfectionists.
These traits can propel us to great heights in our careers but can limit our ability to ask “dumb” questions.
It isn’t easy to ask hard questions or the ones that make us self-conscious, but they are...
Outsourcing, when done properly, can greatly improve your personal and financial health.
By stepping back from the most technically difficult or frustrating tasks, we save our energy for key priorities or enjoying life.
It is not possible (or desirable) to outsource everything. We shouldn’t be completely detaching ourselves from our households or practices.
But when it comes to making the right choices, here are three key criteria to guide you:
Realizing how busy she is in her practice,...
I don’t price the purchases in my life in dollars. I measure these costs in time.
Before I buy something, I quickly calculate how many hours (a small consumer item) or years (a house) I will have to work to pay for it.
This regularly forces me to think in very concrete terms about how I am using my time and life’s energy.
The base formula is simple:
In what is a typical week for you, divide your pre-tax earnings by your working hours (clinical and administrative).
But there is some subtlety here as you will need to adjust for overhead, taxes, and whether the expense is corporate or personal.
Your Hourly Rate takes practice, but I promise that it will be transformative in your everyday life.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that everything we do in life either increases or diminishes our life energy.
Therefore it is crucial that we constantly reflect on how we spend our time. Even what we allow our thoughts to drift to.
Our careers are nuanced in this regard.
We all have elements of the job that are less desirable.
Ideally, however, we should be feeling energized in our work. It is great for us and our patients.
But if one is not at that place, then it is crucial we deeply reflect on why.
And here is where I would challenge you to explore whether financial pressure is causing you to labor more hours than you would like or taking on work that is lucrative but unmeaningful.
Is your life energy dissipating to earn money for what might be unsustainable expenses?
In the week ahead, track your work hours—both clinical and administrative—because in a later post, I will take you through a related Physician Empowerment concept: Your Hourly Rate.
Typically, I describe time as the most important asset in our lives. But earlier this year, I interviewed Dr. Vu Kiet Tran on the Primary Medicine Podcast and he blew me away.
Vu Kiet highlighted that we are trading more than just time for money. We are spending our life energy.
Looking through this lens, we need to be asking ourselves whether a given use of our personal energy is worth it.
Will this trade be something that adds to the fulfillment in our lives or will it leave us feeling diminished?
Some activities are obvious:
Many things, however, are less clear and require some reflection.
The practice of medicine can be deeply rewarding as it is both intellectually stimulating and provides us with the opportunity to serve others.
But there are many stressors—decision fatigue, long hours, the weight of the responsibility we carry—that...
Reflecting on my own life, I am profoundly grateful for the numerous mentors I have had. Folks who have taken the time to share their experiences and wisdom.
What I learned from them has been key to who I am today.
While I have worked hard to get where I am, much of the credit belongs to the incredible people in my life who have guided me along the way.
But in my younger years, I was brash, overworking, and failed to give enough recognition to my mentors.
I try to do better now and this is my own quick list of tips on how to honor mentors in our lives: