Thursday was Doctor’s day. It has been celebrated since the 1930’s when handwritten notes were mailed to physicians and flowers were placed on the graves of doctors who had passed. Today Doctor’s day is usually celebrated with free breakfast in the hospital and snacks and cards from office staff.
I have the privilege of helping to educate medical students and residents. Doctors to be and doctors in training. When you’re in medical school or residency I think you try to keep your eyes forward, always looking toward the next step, the next goal. Don’t think about the mountain you are climbing, just put one foot in front of the other. Looking back, for me, it would have seemed insurmountable to approach it in any other way. There is more to learn, more work to do, more complicated patients to care for today than ever before. The long hours and hard work don’t stop. The struggle to balance education, work, family and your own health never ends.
My youngest loves to sing. She can learn the words to most songs pretty quickly. Which means you can’t let her listen to anything you don’t want repeated. That being said today she was singing songs from the Disney movie “Moana” at the top of her lungs in the car. “and the call isn’t out there at all it’s inside me…like the tide always falling and rising.” Every time she sings the words they stick with me. Medicine is a calling. Yes, while it is often exciting, intellectually stimulating and on most days rewarding, none of those extrinsic things will be enough to keep you in it long term. It seems like it should be, I know. But the pressure, the paperwork, the volume, the hours add up to some grueling days. We know that physician burnout rates are more than 50%. We lose the equivalent of a class of medical students to suicide every year. Conferences for physician educators are now filled with sessions on how to increase resilience in our trainees. We have committees on how to promote wellness in our profession. We desperately are seeking ways to make medicine meaningful again and redeem what has been lost in our profession.
So for my friends in white coats both short and long, in wrinkled scrubs, sitting behind books and laptops and electronic medical records and paperwork of all kinds. For you, every day is doctor’s day. You will get up early and pour yourself into your work and the lives of your patients, your coworkers, your students. Remember to be kind to yourself. Some days the call to medicine will feel far away and you will struggle to remember how and why you got here and why you should stay. Other days you will celebrate the work you did, the people you met, the things you accomplished and the calling will be close to your heart. But never forget that your white coat does not ultimately define who you are. Last week I had the opportunity to hear Friar Richard Rohr speak at a conference the Pastor hosted. He will tell you that in the second half of life you really only learn anything from your suffering and from love; not from your successes. I have come to agree with him. I know more about who I am by listening to those who love me and experiencing the suffering that life brings.
When I think about how to foster wellness and resilience for my friends in white, I think maybe we can do best by reminding them, reminding ourselves, that while your work is meaningful and important…that YOU are meaningful and important. Without your white coat, without the initials behind your name. Medicine will be a huge part of who you are. But it will not be who you are. You are more than medicine.