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Creative Strategies in Physician Leadership



From: Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Speaker
President, The Gaillour Group
Director, Creative Strategies in Physician Leadership 
francine@physicianleadership.com   1-(888) 562-7289
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Read Past Articles

In this November 2005 Issue:  

  1. Is it Possible to Find Happiness as a Physician Today?

  2. News and Media

  3. Copyright & Forwarding



Is it (Even) Possible to Find Happiness as a Physician Today?

By Kernan Manion, MD

With 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.  

So, brace yourself - the answer is … yes!  

And 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?

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 it. 

Many 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. 

Resentment 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!” (anon.)

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.

But 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 of Stress

There’s 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 resiliency.

Take 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 longing for.


Kernan 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 at:  kernan@WorkLifeDesign.org


Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE
15600 NE 8th Street, Suite B1-173
Bellevue, WA  98008
(206) 686-4205

Francine R. Gaillour, MD   ©2006 Ki Health, Inc.