Can Your Life Message Help Burnout?

share your message

As many of you know, I’m honored to be invited to give a TEDx talk on July 23rd in Fargo, North Dakota.

What most of you don’t know is that I’ve rewritten my talk over thirty times.

How come?

Well, for starters, like most of us in medicine, I’m a perfectionist. That’s a good thing, right?

Being a perfectionist is good in the O.R. But other times, not so much.

But it’s not all about the perfectionist thing, I’m afraid. I’ve found out some secrets about what other people think.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned about sharing my life message. Some of it’s not too pretty, so be warned.

Wish I could say that I wrote my first draft, tweaked it a couple times, and it’s been smooth sailing since then.

But that’s not how it went down.

I wanted to share our message of physician burnout with the world, and let our patients know that, despite all the negatives in our current medical world, we still love them.

It turns out, my friends, that people are not that concerned about physician burnout. Even if I explain that, as a patient, it would be good for them to know these things. I’m sorry that it’s true. But there. I said it.

When I practiced my talk to groups of non-medical folks, the feedback was, “Those are good stories, but what’s in it for me? Why should I care?”

So, I had to decide: find a message that would resonate with a broader audience and still be a spokesman for our community at Or hope that all the doctors who felt our pain — and our joy — at being in medicine would by magic find my TEDx talk.

I picked “A.”

Honing my message after weeks and weeks and really baring my soul to strangers in my practice audience has taught me some lessons. Lessons that can help you in your world. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Getting to the core of your beliefs makes you strong.

  1. Owning your vulnerability helps others admit theirs.

If we can’t share our heart space, then why are we here?

This is just the tip of the iceberg in my learning curve, I’m afraid. I’m grateful for our international community here and the support from our members that we share.

Stay tuned as the date gets closer. And remember that what you have to share with the world every day is every bit — in fact, more — important as my little talk.

If you have any wisdom on public speaking you’d like to share, so I can represent our community better, please chime in, in the comments below.

We’re all in this together, my friends.






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7 thoughts on “Can Your Life Message Help Burnout?

  1. Pam Pappas MD

    Gosh, I can just imagine the dilemmas you face in creating and honing your TEDx talk.

    It’s unfortunately true that the public cares little about physician welfare. They don’t understand that we’re humans, that we try to be buffers between patients and a chaotic healthcare system even while being part of that system, and that we’re cooking our own gooses while doing so. When they want medical care, they want medical care — and they treat us like things rather than people. Then they complain that we are callous towards them, treating them as diagnoses rather than humans. All this suffering collides and brings even more suffering. Some get extra helpings when they don’t want it. And of course, no one will want to hear about that part, because it’s just too raw and politically incorrect.

    We have to reach physicians one by one, and connect on as deep levels as possible. We have to learn to look our for each other, and to treat each other with respect and kindness. It will not come from the public, because the public is hurting too much to notice. But we docs can educate each other, and talk openly about how it is for us. We have to do the bulk of this among ourselves — even while sharing some of the data about medical errors and how this can be affected by the organizational culture in which one practices. If the public wants good health care, it has to learn that this can only come from healthy doctors. There may be only a very few medical organizations that give a rip about physician burnout — they see what it costs when they lose a good doctors either to their either quitting to work elsewhere or committing suicide. We are not simply interchangeable parts, even though many treat us that way. Only when we stand up and say who we are, and what we stand for, will anyone wake up. I am standing up for my colleagues just as you are, and I’m so grateful you’ve got the podium as you do. Many will not want to know the truth — but it does affect them. You can tell them HOW it affects them.


    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Thanks, Pam, for your wise words. I think we all need to recognize that true healing starts within — whether we’re the doctor, nurse or the patient. And my TEDx talk will really address the importance of connection that we make working together. It’s the power of our relationships that matter. And that is across the board for all of us, dear friend. I appreciate your support and that of our huge international community in sharing our message. With gratitude.

  2. Jane Zendarski

    Starla, good luck with your presentation.
    Thank you for the reminder to get sleep. I got 8 hours last night, the first time in over a week.
    I met a colleague who was embezzled and had to close his practice. What amazed him, he shared with me, was the lack of inquiry about his wellbeing from patients. The attitude he experienced from patients was, you are a wealthy doctor you’ll do alright. Can you do this for me before you close shop? If patients don’t consider the trauma of betrayal by embezzlement, they won’t be concerned about the effects of physician burnout on patient care.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Jane, thanks for your comments. It is amazing how some people perceive the “doctor’s world,” isn’t it? My parents are still surprised that patients call in the middle of the night (they found this out while on a recent visit, with the phone waking us all up at 3 a.m.!). The reaction your colleague received is another reason why I feel it is critical to take care of ourselves first. Putting our needs as a priority is simply self-care and survival; not selfish. It always reminds me of the “oxygen mask on the grown-ups first” speech by the flight attendants on planes.

  3. Mike

    Starla, I look forward to your Ted Talk and wish you the best of luck! Regardless of job, industry, or point in one’s life, IT HAS TO START WITH YOU!! Caring for yourself and preventing the burnout enables you to be the person you want to be and provide the experience for others that they deserve. When burnout sets in, the patient experience suffers. Focusing on providing the best, most caring experience for your patients will move them to treat you differently and appreciate your services. When you stop believing that you are in control of the environment within your practice then the experience you deliver will deteriorate. I don’t always feel like smiling but when I force myself to smile, my disposition changes and the positive effect it has on me certainly is transferred to those around me. You can create the outcome you desire and are not sentenced to a life of uncaring and callous patients. Doing so begins within and when you accept the challenge, care for yourself, and believe you can make a difference, YOU WILL!!

  4. Debra Saltz

    Share who you are honestly and openly, some may not agree with you but I believe they will respect your voice. I believe when we share our weakness and or imperfections, take responsibility, and strive to overcome or work with them we not only encourage ourselves but other as well.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Debra, I agree that being honest with others – whether our family, our colleagues, or our patients – can help bridge that gap between what we are experiencing and what we want to achieve. Thanks for your thoughts!


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