NaBloPoMo 2018: What I’m Learning
So, what did you think of how trainees described the Culture of Medicine? If you’re in medicine, how much did you resonate? If you’re not in medicine, how much were you surprised, or not? How do you think this affects our relationships with you, our patients?
Do you wonder how we get through any given day?
I asked the group: What are characteristics or traits of Culture of Wellness (COW) Leaders? Once again, I present their responses here, in order of discussion.
- “They ask how people are doing.” They are proactive about it, opening the door, making it safe to talk honestly about how we really are doing. They exhibit the ‘body language of listening.’ It’s still hard to talk about it, one student pointed out. The best leaders explicitly carve out time to talk, to invite feedback. It also matters what they do with the information once they get it—empathizing and acting on it if needed, rather than dismissing.
- Mentor. This is someone who knows you and whose role it is to help you ‘unconditionally,’ different from any of your evaluators—maybe an advisor. It can be an informal relationship, maybe just someone you want to emulate. Trainees agreed that it often happens organically, and they seek it actively. One resident identified her program director as ‘absolutely a COW leader.’
- Walk the Talk. Examples: work/life balance/integration, acceptance of mistakes, admitting when you don’t know something. NO DEFLECTING; OWN YOUR SHIT. This one hit home with me—this is Integrity. As Brené Brown says, integrity is “choosing what’s right instead of what’s fun, fast, or easy. It is living your values rather than simply professing them.”
The next several descriptors emerged in a flurry. The atmosphere in the room swelled with positive energy as one label after another of what we admire about our teachers and colleagues overtook the downtrodden mood just moments before:
- Personally engaged
- Vulnerability—willing to share
- Positivity—seeing mistakes as learning opportunities. Encouraging—“We’ got this!”
- (Understand the importance of) Food: attending to physical needs
- Humor—acknowledging the challenge and weight of the work and also holding it loosely
The last one triggered a story. One student rotated on an inpatient service. Critically ill patients poured into the hospital; all work hour restrictions were necessarily violated. Nerves were more than frayed, and people were at their worst. He witnessed open hostility by senior residents toward interns, backstabbing, undermining. The attending, present only minimally, was oblivious. And, “They never said thank you.” The student, who had planned to enter this field, considered switching. It was that bad. But somehow, he was able to get perspective and remind himself that this one bad experience did not represent the whole of this specialty. It had been an unusually busy month at the end of a long, hard year. Maybe the cumulative exposure to some of his COWL role model traits had rubbed off, and buoyed him when he stepped onto a leaky boat.
A senior student admitted that when she started medical school she had heard of burnout. “I initially didn’t believe it could happen to me… Then later I realized it can happen to anybody—it could absolutely be me, if I don’t take care of myself.” I asked what that means, taking care of yourself? They answered:
- Nutrition: “Any food your intern year; choices matter more when you’re PGY (post graduate year) 3!”
- Outside interests
- Finding a practice situation that fits: eg caring for the underserved, women’s health, hospital medicine, etc.
- Find Your Tribe. The trainees did not use these words, but this is what I wrote in my notes—they expressed a need for belonging.
- People at work: truly collegial relationships, especially across specialties
- Confidants: safe people to share with, your emotional support network
- Physician-Patient relationships: mutually vulnerable and open
I asked them what they needed to take care of themselves.
- Time—to be given by the system, and also to be responsible and efficient with themselves.
- Habits—established and also adaptible
Overall the discussion felt productive and successful in the end. We had just mapped out the way(s) to Be The Change we seek in our profession. Some of them took pictures of my notes (so Millennial), which made me feel gratifyingly connected. I had tried to question more than lecture, to explore and facilitate more than ‘teach.’ I wanted each of them to own their own path to leading from any chair, now and forever. I proposed that they could start the moment they walked out of the conference room door—no elevated status or title necessary.
This is why the calling still resounds compellingly, why our enthusiasm for the work persists resolutely, despite the hardships. It’s Hope. And at its foundation lies the bedrock of our best relationships—with ourselves, with one another, and with our patients. On the march toward a true Culture of Wellness, real leaders go in front and set the example. The rest of us learn by mimicking. Thus we all have leadership potential and, dare I say, responsibility. We are the system; we make the culture—each and every one of us makes a unique contribution. Nothing we do is too small to matter.