Finding Meaning in your Medical Career

We have all had experiences with doctors who left us feeling uplifted and positive. These practitioners interact with everyone with warmth, wit, and charm and they are beloved by their patients and nurses alike. In one recent personal experience, I had the opportunity to interact with a young neurologist who exuded charm, compassion, and concern. He left me feeling better and encouraged even though nothing objectively had changed.

Contrast that with the frustrated, angry and burnt out doctor who snarled impossible questions at you, didn’t ask your name or even seem to want to acknowledge your existence. A doctor like that can make your hair stand on end, and they often leave their patients feeling confused, unhappy, and upset.

However, all of these experiences, both positive and negative, can help shape you into the type of doctor that you want to be. All of us are a composite of our experience whether it is good or bad. Here are a few tips that can help you learn from and incorporate the traits of a “good” doctor while avoiding or minimizing those more negative qualities.

The most important thing you can do to add meaning as you advance in your career is to practice mindfulness and self-reflection. Stop and think about why you got into medicine in the first place. I hope that it intended to make the world a better place and help people. The pursuit of riches, fame, and glory for their own sake will not make you a better doctor or a better person. Our society is full of individuals who are rich and famous for no discernible reason. Becoming just like them is not the path to a meaningful life or career.

Perfectionism is another major problem faced by medical professionals. People who pursue careers in medicine tend to be highly driven type A personalities. As a doctor, you literally hold your patient’s lives in your hands. Therefore, it is common for many medical professionals to be perfectionist and beat themselves up over small mistakes. Part of growth is learning to forgive yourself when you make a mistake while also striving to learn from and not repeat the error. Self-forgiveness and self-care are necessary components of being a well-rounded human being.

Patience and tolerance are also virtues that we should all cultivate. It is easy to forget that when clients come to your practice, they may be scared or in pain. Often they are seeking reassurance and comfort as much as medical care. It shouldn’t be surprising if some patients become irrational at times or get angry with you. However, as the doctor, it is your job to remain calm, composed and to have a soothing demeanor.

One concept that might help achieve this goal is the idea of the “good enough doctor.” Good enough isn’t about being mediocre or slightly above average, but rather it focuses on continual improvement and excellence. The illusion of perfection has been the downfall of many talented medical professionals. Constant growth and learning is the path to true meaning and success.

NES can help you achieve meaning in your life and career by placing you in communities and hospitals where you will be needed, valued and part of something larger than yourself. You may actually be able to have a more significant impact in a smaller hospital than in a large urban medical center. We will work with you to find a placement that meets your needs and those of your family so that you can find real meaning in what you do.