For most health care workers, and physicians in particular, messages from within and from the world-at-large are insistent and persistent: be better than, be the best at, be smarter than, be perfect. The perfectionist standards to which we hold them, and to which they hold themselves, are a toxic recipe for loneliness, anxiety, concealed sorrows and fears, and perennially deferred joy.
Potent stressors can add to the sense of disillusion with a professional path once thought to be deeply purposeful, even sacred: the chokehold of the insurance and drug industries; rote, shallow, rapid-fire interactions with patients; a sense of self that is both inflated and vulnerable; a chronic sense of not being “enough” at work or at home.
Mental well-being is the biggest threat to the career and health of doctors and nurses themselves. They see this, can attest to this, know this in their bones – yet too often continue to do what they’ve always done: plow on.
I’ve worked with seasoned physicians and nurses as well as those who are at the beginning of their careers. To a person, they’ve struggled to reconcile an internalized set of standards with what they know to be true as a member of the human family: We’re all imperfect. We need each other. And connection is key to health.
It’s a tender honor to support those whose lives and careers are devoted to healing others. When professionals in the medical field find their way back to a self they like and have compassion for, they discover that their capacity to connect deeply is the most reliable source of joy and fulfillment — and contributes greatly to the healing of their patients.
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