Is it (Even) Possible to Find Happiness as a Physician Today?
Kernan Manion, MD
the chronic ‘funk’ most docs are in (ask anyone who goes
to medical meetings where the mood is best described as
‘grim’), you’d surmise that, no, the best you can hope
for is an embittered and cynical state of survival.
brace yourself - the answer is … yes!
it’s contingent on
two key elements: a) what
you define as happiness and b) how
you manage the stress array you’re faced with in both
your professional and personal life. If you’re not clear
about what in your practice brings you happiness, then even
though there are abundant sources of joy and pride and
compassion, you may be oblivious to it, so inundated with
stress that you are. Or you may be unrealistically holding
out for something that’s not attainable.
What is Happiness?
is a mood state of joy and overall contentment that is
related to how we experience both individual situations and
our lives as a whole. Happiness is largely what you make
physicians today are caught in a chronic tantrum state.
They’re p.o.’d about the state of healthcare, the
reimbursement situation, malpractice, their workload etc.
Now, don’t get me wrong – these are all real stressors!
There’s no arguing that. But they’re caught in this
state of resentment. So they carry around this funk and,
like a miasma, it surrounds everything they do.
is essentially a form of anger. And we know from the
Framingham Heart Study and others that chronic anger kills
– people who are chronically angry have an increased
morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases. So the
bitter cynicism we’re carrying around is ultimately not
only not moving us forward, it’s actually detrimental.
“Resentment is a lot like preparing a poison potion for
your enemy . . . and then drinking it yourself!”
Many physicians have lost sight of what it is that brings
them happiness and have focused almost exclusively on the
financial ROI. And they’re concluding “I’m getting
less $$ for the same or even more amount of work.” And if
that’s your exclusive and ongoing focus, anger would be
just about the only emotion you could manifest.
separate from the income issue, is there reason for joy –
in the feeling of unique accomplishment, in the relationship
with patients and families, in living a reasonably good
life? Take a moment to reflect on what it is that brings you
happiness. If you’re coming up empty, then it’s time for
some serious reflection with someone about how to restore
joy to your life.
Handling the Array
no doubt about the bombardment of stress in physicians’
lives. There are innumerable sources of it – financial;
medico-legal; entitled, know-it-all and demanding patients;
the challenges of keeping up professionally …. And
there’s also the stress that comes from our personal lives
– relationship issues; child problems; caring for aging
parents; personal illness ….
So what’s it mean to “manage stress?” I see stress
management as a two track strategy – managing
both the array of stressors AND managing
the stressee response. In my coaching practice and tele-classes,
I introduce people to what I’ve termed a “stress
biopsy”, an instrument that helps you identify everything
that’s bothering you, professionally as well as
personally. You can now think more coherently about them and
decide how you want to approach each significant issue or
cluster of issues (if you’d like a copy, drop me a line
– see address below).
The stressee response,
namely the one you have as a cumulative result of each of
the stresses, can be
modified. Putting “stress management” practices into
place religiously is vitally important to our building
sufficient resiliency to face the stress storm. There are a
host of practices that can accomplish this – breathing
techniques, yoga, aerobic exercise, walking, meditation,
sitting quietly, meditative music…. The overall goal of
these is to dismantle
the anger and worry response cascades that have been fueling
our turmoil and depleting our emotional energy and
a moment to imagine “what would my practice be like if I
was clear about what brought me happiness and if I was more
focused about managing my stress?” I’m convinced you’d
be on the pathway to realizing the happiness you’ve been
Manion, MD is board certified in psychiatry. He
devotes most of his time to professional development
coaching for physicians and organizational development
consulting to groups and departments that have lost a common
vision and are stuck in conflict. Contact him