We are humans first and inspiring, gifted healers second

We are humans first and inspiring, gifted healers second

Our profession often sends the message that we are invincible heroes.

Here’s my vulnerable and honest admission: I lapped that up. There was something so seductive about denying pesky human requirements, like sleep, regular exercise, and time to decompress. I liked being needed more than I liked having needs.

I sublimated mine under my superhero cape right up until the time I hit a kryptonite wall. There was no specific event or red flag. I simply ran out of the energy needed to push myself so hard, like a tire with a slow leak that finally deflates.

I am not saying it was my fault that I burned out. Professional burnout is caused by ongoing excessive stress in the workplace and system issues. However, my actions—buying into that superhuman persona and not accessing help when I needed it—made it worse.

After I left clinical practice, the burnout symptoms faded, but the experience left its mark. It changed me. What I now know is that it changed me for the better.

Burnout humbled me and brought me face-to-face with the truth I’d been denying for so long: I am human, not a superhero. As inconvenient as it may be sometimes, I have human limitations, needs, and feelings. I need help sometimes.

When I left practice, work that allowed me to acknowledge and meet my human needs was top on my priority list. I sometimes slip back into denying I’m human but aspire each day to make progress in keeping my priorities straight. This is a good thing.

If I knew back in training and practice what I know now, I would have looked for the support and mentoring that would have helped me to forge a path in clinical medicine. But I saw help as an admission of weakness. I felt too much shame and guilt to even consider asking for any.

While I regret that I didn’t access help before leaving practice, I am grateful to have learned an important lesson early and had the chance to course-correct my life. I’m a happier, more balanced person because of it.

I am awed by my physician colleagues who have known all along to put their human needs first—the old oxygen-mask-on-the-plane analogy. Thank you for the example you set for our profession.

Over time, perhaps there will be a new message that we all embrace: We are humans first and inspiring, gifted healers second.

Diane W. Shannon is an internal medicine physician and physician coach and can be reached at her self-titled site, Diane W. Shannon.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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