Whether you’re still in training or you’ve been out of med school for a while, physician burnout may have hit you. When it does, you may not always relish being called a doctor. Has that happened to you yet?
Think back to the first time you called yourself a doctor.
Were you in med school, awkwardly introducing yourself to a patient?
Were you standing at the nurses’ station in the hospital looking for a chart and seeking a little help?
Or was it when you made reservations at a fancy restaurant, hoping you’d get a better table if you dropped the word “doctor”?
During my training, there was a big distinction between doctors in short, white lab coats and those who wore long, white lab coats. Doctors who wore the short, white coats were still in training. “Real doctors” however, had the honor of wearing knee-length white coats.
The full-length coats were like badges of honor.
I can remember driving to the hospital on my first day of my internship. I couldn’t help but note the different coat lengths among the walkers as I drove up and down the busy street in search of a parking spot. That day, I wore my long, white coat with great pride.
These days, however, I pay little attention to coat lengths. In fact, I don’t always want to be “outed” as a doctor, especially when I’m on vacation or getting my car repaired.
I just want to be known as Starla. I believe my profession should come second.
The big question I have for you is this:
Are you your profession?
Do you see yourself as your authentic self first, and as a doctor second?
You might not believe the distinction matters. I’m here to tell you, it matters. A lot.
It matters because in today’s world, being a doctor is not always held in high regard. People outside the medical profession are often quick to criticize “rich doctors out playing golf on Wednesday afternoons” without realizing that they are relying on outdated stereotypes. No wonder physician burnout is increasing.
It matters because when you know in your heart you’ve given your all to this profession, and that being a doctor is what you were born to do, it’s painful to see the media portray doctors as callous, greedy, or simply frivolous.
If being a doctor is not all that it’s cracked up to be, then what does that say about us? Does that mean that we are now “less than?”
If our core beliefs are shaken, can our cores still be solid?
We can’t let physician burnout burn us out. We need to remind ourselves how we truly feel in each of our patient interactions. How we marvel at the human body every day.
Author Joseph Campbell wrote: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
I think what he meant was that being “what you are”is not the same as being “who you are”.
Who you are goes so much deeper than being a doctor. We have to remember that first and foremost, doctors are human.
It’s about embodying authenticity:
• It’s the way you feel when you first wake up, before your feet hit the ground.
• It’s your truest version of yourself, the one that often hides behind the roles you play.
• It’s who you are when you let out the dog, make coffee, and fetch the newspaper from the driveway.
• It’s who you are when you patiently listen as your mother recounts another story about Aunt Helen.
• It’s who you are in the kitchen, making pancakes for your 3-year-old, even though you don’t have time.
• It’s who you are when you let that car cut in front of you as it tries to merge onto the exit ramp.
At those times, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fireman, a teacher, a banker or a doctor. You are just another person making your way in the world.
That’s the version of you that needs to come through every day.
Authenticity is being a doctor and your truest self, simultaneously.
Because the moment you slip on your white lab coat, you transform in the eyes of the world. You become “a doctor”.
It’s your job to remember that the coat isn’t a magic cape. Underneath it, you are still just you.
The good news is, that’s where the magic lies: It lives inside you.
No lab coat required.
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by Starla Fitch, MD
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