Are we the ‘role’ of ‘doctor’? Are we ‘the white coat’? Are we the ‘caring physician’, the ‘selfless physician’, the ‘exhausted surgeon’, the ‘busy GP’, the ‘doctor who can’t go on’? or is there something more to us than the world sees or trains us to be?
Now that’s a question that’s not in our final medical school exams, or our specialist exams! That’s not one that our patients ask of us either.
But actually, why not? Is not who we are within the foundation of everything that we do? Is not that our humanity, which is utterly vital when working in a caring profession that has care for humanity and connection with people at its heart.
And if we don’t know who we are at the end of our training, then what purpose has our training served us in truth, and the people that we serve?
Lets consider this.
Deep within, we all want to be known as the real and authentic person that we are. Everyone feels this, deep within. There is something deeper within us than the ‘professional’ way we have been trained to be. Yet, in life, and in medicine, we are constantly in the role of ‘doctor’, so deeply ingrained we cannot even remove it when we go home for many if not most people.
People see us as ‘doctor’ whether they be patients, peers or colleagues, and we are ingrained to see ourselves as ‘doctor’ also.
Being a doctor is great, its fantastic and amazing, its so wonderful to be able to connect with and care for people, but its not who we are, it’s a job that we do. Its our humanity that brings heart to the job, and to our daily interactions. Without our humanity, we are missing something inside of us, and keeping a protective distance from our patients.
We are all people, jobs and roles that we do are just that, they are simply roles, things that we do. If we allow ourselves to be defined by them, then we will be sorely miserable as we are missing out on the truth of who we are, that truth we always knew when we were small children.
I knew myself as joyful, a deep thinker and inquirer, a contemplator, loving, open hearted and playful and deeply tender and caring. I particularly liked to construct things with Leggo, and do puzzles, more so to understand how things worked.
How much of ourselves do we lose in medicine, and in fact, why is it that we lose the essence of who we are?
I look around at many of my colleagues, and we are so far from who we are! We are caught in this ideal of professionalism, slightly grey, always tired, running out of time, running behind time, stressed out, doing all things for all people, taking the blame for everything, feeling pressured by a system that increasingly asks and demands more of us, gives us no respect for us as people, seeks to blame us for things we have no control over.
The tensions that we face are enormous, and there is no support for us in it all, but, do we need to lose who we are to conform to some sort of professional mould?
Are there really such stiff penalties for bringing joy and humour to work?
And what if we were to bring our true sensitivity and care, if not love of people, to work – would there be some sort of great cataclysm?
I know I lost myself in medicine until I reclaimed myself back.
We all miss who we really are and the freedom of childhood to be who we really are, but in most of us, we got programmed to not let that out, as though somehow it was too much or too great for society. Our joy, our playfulness, our love of people, a crime against society?
Last time I checked the crimes against society were murder, rape, pillage robbery theft and corruption. I don’t recall joy, love, humour, and playfulness being high on the list!
Medicine has become so serious, and we are expected to be so serious, but is this who we really are?
If we look back to our childhoods is this what we really felt on the inside, but have we rather allowed our true natures to be imprisoned?
Do we really need this seriousness in order to do our jobs well?
I would contend that the answer is no.
Having formerly been very committed to being all heavy and serious I have found I have had more fun and joy at work by being myself, and my relationships with my patients, colleagues and staff has skyrocketed. In short, I’m doing better than ever. Seriousness was not needed to care for my patients, nor to take attention to details needed in terms of results and paperwork.
What my patients really need is to connect with me, to feel my care and love, and they can’t feel that if I’m locking myself away behind some sort of ‘serious’ cage!
What if we gave ourselves permission to let ourselves out, to bring our true personas to work, to allow ourselves to truly connect with people, and to bring our unique aspects into the work place? Would this not improve our relationships with our colleagues, staff and patients? Would not our practice of medicine actually improve out of sight?
And might it be possible that we would burnout less and be less depressed and anxious as we were enjoying ourselves more during the day, simply being ourselves?
After all, everybody loves connecting with a person. We all love those people who are free and able to be ‘themselves’, so why don’t we allow that for ourselves?
Doctor, you are a person too.
You are far more than the great role and job that you do, you are fully YOU.
Let it out in full. You may actually enjoy it! And so will your patients.