A physician spouse discusses how design-based tools can help busy physicians find their happiness. The Physician’s Ethical Advantage (Part 1)
Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
- Abraham Lincoln
The other day my physician wife was concerned about her upcoming clinic. What had been fun earlier in her career - interacting with patients - had become something she no longer anticipated.
Can you relate?
My guess is that you went into medicine for the purpose of serving, helping, and healing others. You paid an enormous price for the opportunity. In the process you could have been negatively impacted too.
You signed up for arguably the most difficult job there is to do. And as a result you work with people in all kinds of situations, environments, and mindsets. Many people aren't always eager to have the hard conversations.
The saying goes, hurt people, hurt people.
Pushback, anger, accusation, gaslighting, lose-lose outcomes are likely a significant part of your day.
So you might just understand - or even share - a growing apprehension toward patients - especially the cases. I certainly do.
As a sustainability designer married to medicine I have the opportunity to think below the surface. Since I don't have patients to see, emergencies to solve, or insurance minutia to process, I am able to focus on the Important but not Urgent quadrant. So I exploit this luxury of thinking longer term and more systematically - and sustainably - in the hopes of being as helpful as I can possibly be.
Steven Covey talked about this 30 years ago in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He drew a matrix containing Urgent and Important axes. Then warned us about the very quadrant where so much of pre-COVID medicine occurs - the urgent category.
In the ongoing debate about suits vs. scrubs, I am concerned that so many scrubs are no longer in control of their activities. They are largely stripped of the self-governing ability to make these important decisions, and defaulting to a constant state of reactivity instead of proactivity. This is the very reason why design thinking for physicians is vital.
It can be an extremely empowering habit - especially during weekend walks or even your commute if your mind wanders.
Remember the special case patient that you might or might not be eager to see? What if you took just a couple weekend minutes to envision the big picture? You might discover something unexpected - you might observe that what you thought was the problem is not the actual thing impacting you. And you could uncover new options and solutions.
My question to my spouse - and perhaps to you - is whether it is the actual patient that is draining? Or is it the future anticipation of treating a difficult patient? Or the unpredictability of the patient? The loss of control and whatever could happen after that?
Put another way, is the issue the patient interaction, or is it the habit of looking ahead to a negative story - a story many of us will unintentionally build and believe over time?
Is it possible that the apprehension is actually from projecting that negative expectation into the future? Is it strange to imagine that this could sap the enthusiasm we used to have? Can our unchecked minds spiral into unhelpful places and actually become a self-fulfilling event?
Well I don't want that for you - or my wife.
And I'm not going to suggest that you simply paint a happy picture to project into the future. But would you simply identify this thought pattern instead? Would you remind yourself that there's a huge difference between your future situation versus an emotionally-driven mental scenario? Because we will live with the result, real or imagined, positive or otherwise.
It sounds idealistic but the reality is we can be as happy as we choose to be.
When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. Could Wayne Dyer's quote be an invitation to design-thinking, beyond positive thinking?
I don't want to just leave you with that idea - if you'll allow me, I'd like to provide actual design-based tools and prototypes for your consideration. I'd like to help busy physicians like you to gain the additional margin you'll need to flourish in a post-COVID world.
I'll be providing practical tools for you in part 2.