Mission and purpose can counter feelings of burnout

ACP's president discusses physician burnout and the College's efforts to address it.


My father was a planner. It felt to me like an old man's folly. “Why plan?” my teenage self would mutter. “Why not just go with the flow? Why not be flexible?

“Free like a bird?” I would imagine wistfully.

“Even the bird has a destination. It has a plan on its long migration. It is not simply flying free,” my father would say.

At the end of training, I was “free” for the first time without a clear plan of what would come next. It was there that I met the great abyss of freedom; the knowledge that freedom carries responsibility and that freedom without responsibility is true folly. I learned the importance of a plan.

We are physicians. I feel a tremendous bond—past, present, and future—to physician colleagues. I feel a timeless bond through our commitment to healing, to caring, and to preventing disease and illness.

Ours is a profession of compassion, knowledge, skill, and humility. What I say always to our students is there is too much to know. The days of holding all the knowledge in your head are gone. For that, we do not need to despair. For that, we have been given the opportunity to learn the humility of our craft, to learn to navigate knowledge quickly, and to learn to heal.

The gift that this time of electronic records and apps has brought to us is the opportunity to come back to our roots, to the art of healing, to learn to be present with the person in front of us, seeking our help. Our profession invites us to listen, to care, and to heal.

Be present. Take time and heal.

Feels like a breath of fresh air as I write those words. How many of us recall and treasure those moments with gratitude, those times when we've been with our patients, cared for our patients, and made a difference? How has that time nurtured both them and us?

Every year, at Convocation at ACP's Internal Medicine Meeting, we reaffirm our commitment to our work. We recite our professional mission and purpose. The principles that guide our plan. The College has a mission and purpose. What is your mission and purpose? How can the College support you in your professional mission and purpose and plan? Please let us know.

From the conversations on burnout, we understand that connection to purpose ameliorates stress and eases burnout. Residents are burnt out more than those of us in practice and often enter the profession with better mental health than their peers. Decreased isolation and an improved sense of community can serve to bridge those feelings of despair.

Today, make a plan. In your practice setting, on your travels to or from your workplace, or in the coffee line, lunch line, or whatever other line you find yourself in, stop and make a healing difference. Reach out and make connection. Decrease the sense of isolation in a colleague. Look up from your cell phone. A mentor once said to me, “Every interaction has a potential for healing. We must miss a million opportunities each day. Think what the world would be like if we missed less.”

Take an opportunity to heal today, whether big or small. Live your plan consistent with your mission and purpose. Let us know your experience, and please let us know how the College can be of help to you as you live your mission.