Working with Your Worst Enemy - Tips for Taming Your Inner Critic

What would you do if you were completely untethered by expectations? 

How would it impact your decisions? 

What other passions would you pursue? 

All too often, we put internal constraints on ourselves that prevent us from being our best. We are often our own worst enemy. Thoughts like “that’s not realistic” or “I could never do that” pop up and squash unrealized opportunities in our careers and personal lives.  

In this article, we are going to share some simple tips and tricks for taming your inner critic.

Awareness of Your Inner Critic

Before you can take any steps to managing your inner critic, you need to recognize that it exists and increase awareness of when it creeps in. Start training yourself to recognize your inner critic when thoughts like the ones listed below pop into your head:

  • “You can’t do that, are you crazy?”

  • “You can’t be successful at work and have quality time with family.”

  • “You always screw up!”

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Make Your Inner Critic Personal

Inner critics can take different shapes and sizes. Your inner critic may sound completely different from my inner critic. A strong voice that pops up less frequently for me says “not good enough.” This inner critic leverages my perfectionistic training and stifles my creativity and getting projects done. I feel pretty strongly that this inner critic served me to get into medical school and even in driving many of my surgical skills. I am also aware that it holds me back from doing some pretty amazing things. That’s why it’s important to identify the nature of your personal inner critic and how it is serving you. CEO coach Shirzad Chamine has developed a great tool for identifying the specific types of inner critics. Take his free Self Sabotage Assessment here to find out yours.

Learn How to Manage Your Inner Critic

Once we have increased awareness around our inner critic and personalized it, taming it becomes much easier. We can learn to snuff it out, or harness it when it is serving us. Leah Weiss, PhD and I talked about the inner critic with regard to showing Self-Compassion on a mini-podcast. Leah highlighted just how important it is to recognize when it is holding back from our success.  I found it pretty difficult when I was first working on self-compassion and my inner critic, so I only did this in a very safe place - my growing yoga practice! When I got more comfortable with my kinder, gentler voice, I began to manage my inner critic in more challenging environments.  

The trick was developing a personal statement to replace or respond to the inner critic. Here’s what I say…

“I am amazing! I offer Love, Hope, Care and the Best of my many growing abilities.”

What is YOUR personal statement? 

Don’t have one? Write one!

It will change over time, as mine has several times. It will serve you and your patients

For more tips on how to manage your inner critic, join the SurgeonMasters mailing list. If you want assistance or coaching to make it happen even faster, contact the SurgeonMasters team today.

CHARMed - Signing On to Improve Physician Well-Being

Whatever term we want to use - burnout, passion killer, sick-and-tired-of-this - we’re feeling it in the medical community. Some studies are even finding a majority of US physicians report symptoms of burnout at any given time. We at SurgeonMasters talk a lot about physician wellness and burnout prevention from the perspective of the individual in the system, don’t be fooled! 

We fully recognize the larger role the system plays in creating burnout and the conflict with our personal values. However, SurgeonMasters are not waiting for the system to change. We are creating the change.

Other physician advocates are not waiting around either. In April 2018, the American Medical Association and members in the Collaborative for Healing and Renewal in Medicine (CHARM) put together a “Charter on Physician Well-Being.” This charter was intended for organizations to use as a model to reduce burnout and promote well-being in the workplace. (list of early adopters)

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Impact of Burnout on the Physician and the System

The charter cites over 10 years of research on burnout compiled by Mayo Clinic and others. According to their research, roughly two-thirds of physicians report feelings of burnout, depression, or both – with female physicians being more impacted than their male counterparts.

On an institutional level, the research shows that burnout can negatively impact the bottom line – reducing levels of patient satisfaction, safety, and quality of care.

How The Charter Commits to Physician Well-Being

The charter itself has three “key commitments” including “societal, organizational, and interpersonal and individual commitments” to improve the physician experience.  Additionally, it lays out four guiding principles for organizations to support physician well-being:

  • Patient care: Effective patient care promotes and requires physician well-being.

  • Well-being of all: Physician well-being is related with the well-being of all members of the health care team.

  • High-value care: Physician well-being is a quality marker.

  • Shared responsibility: Physician well-being requires collaboration between individual physicians and their organizations.

Has your organization signed the Charter? SurgeonMasters is committed to the Guiding Principles of the Charter, and we recommend your organization sign and commit to it too. 

Signing on to the Charter would be a great first step for any organization looking to reduce burnout among their physicians and staff.  

SurgeonMasters offers a vast array of resources and practice support for organizations and healthcare professionals navigating a life and career in medicine. The SurgeonMasters peer-support system provides a confidential, nonjudgmental, and enriching environment for self-development and team-building.

Reach out to to learn more.

Simple Reminders for Calming Physician Overwhelm

In our current healthcare system, feeling overwhelmed is common among physicians and a huge contributing factor to burnout. One of the main reasons physicians feel overwhelmed is that they have been trained to shoulder the majority of the responsibility, even in areas that are unrelated to patient care. During these times there are simple, positive ways to calm the overwhelm. In this article, we are going to offer up three helpful reminders all physicians can use when feeling overwhelmed.


Expect the Unexpected

Despite your best efforts, unexpected challenges are sure to crop up during the course of your day. Training yourself to expect the unexpected, and accept the unexpected, will help you better prepare for difficult situations when they arise.

Prioritize Your Time & Efforts

There is always more to be done! Our first one or two priorities usually get done but we cannot do it all! Keep doing a great job of managing the urgent and important tasks.  However, moving down the list, how do you address non-urgent tasks? These usually create the most angst when neglected for too long, because they are often on our mind but frequently incomplete. 

Which takes us to our third reminder.

Delegate & Rely on Staff

As physicians, many of us were taught to pick up the slack and do things ourselves. But this is a great way to welcome feelings of overwhelm, especially when we often don’t account for our lives outside of medicine. What tasks can YOU delegate and empower your staff with? That’s why they’re there, after all! 

Calming the feeling of overwhelm by having simple strategies to process important tasks are both helpful. 

What common circumstances are present when you start to feel overwhelmed? 

What strategies have you used to gain control of the situation?

SurgeonMasters provides a supportive, nonjudgmental, and enriching environment for self-development. Here, practicing surgeons can evaluate their current practices, create short- and long-term goals, refine their focus and self-inquiry, manage stress and frustration, and develop strong relationships with their peers. Check out our vast array of wellness and burnout prevention resources.

Reach out to to learn more.

Moving Away from Second Victim Syndrome

A recent article published on titled “Second victim syndrome: a doctor’s hidden struggle” outlined the concept of second victim syndrome and its impact on physicians experiencing burnout. In this article, I’d like to offer my perspective on this concept and how we can better approach it to prevent burnout and promote well-being.

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What is “Second Victim Syndrome?”

Second victim syndrome is a term coined in 2000 by Dr. Andrew Wu that refers to the psychological trauma that a physician may experience in cases of medical error. In a case of medical error, the patient is the first victim and the physician or healthcare professional is the second victim.

Severe cases of harm can lead to severe feelings and thoughts. Mild and moderate cases of harm still stir these feelings and are generally under appreciated for long-term effects. In these cases, the hospital performs root cause analyses and tries to determine ways to prevent errors in the future, while the physician is left alone to deal with the psychological trauma.

These analyses are appropriate if there are lessons learned. Often the system wants or insists that a new lesson is learned. Most frequently the root cause is not new to the system, though it may be new to that physician. To many physicians, the root cause analysis prioritizes the process and even the analysis rather than the humans involved. When lessons are learned, this is a great thing. When NOT, they may not realize the additional harm that is caused to the humans in overanalyzing the medical error. Whether an error actually occurred is not as simple as you might think. Similarly, who made the error makes it even more confusing. Internally, human minds are processing this information very rapidly, while the system processes at a different pace. The humans are further isolated and the feelings are can be GREATLY exacerbated.

So what can we do to help physicians deal with second victim syndrome?

Changing the Language from “Second Victim Syndrome”

First, what if we change the language of "Second Victim Syndrome?"

Many physicians don't want to be considered a victim (nor should we be). Healing, recovery, and learning is strengthened by the concept of moving out of the victim mindset. What if we just call these “adverse outcomes?” What if we appreciated that all involved in the adverse outcome have needs to heal, recover, and learn?

Emotional First Aid & Employee Assistance

Second, the best programs are not in place for surgeons and physicians to leverage when they need assistance. We need to get past “solutions” that are essentially just lipstick on a pig, and invest in real education and resources. For instance, we don't teach healthy empathy and very little attention is placed on emotional intelligence or skills in our training.

Few physicians are even aware if an employee assistance program exists or they might not have access if they are not employed by a hospital or system. Even when available, surgeons are internally and culturally least likely to reach out for support or "feel" that the support "doesn’t get us." Physicians and surgeons are not trusting of confidentiality and safety, as often these have been violated by the system. Lastly, physicians might accept support, but only after repeated offers. We have much more training in giving versus receiving care and support.

We need to offer peer-support that is built around the individual. Each situation is unique, and right now our healthcare system isn’t offering the support physicians need. Too often the support is lacking adequate funding, scheduling conflicts with clinical or personal time, and clarity of physician purpose and goals. There are best practices for peer-support, and we all have to be willing to embrace them.

We all know there’s a long way to go in creating the change our system requires. When medical errors do happen, what if we started with a truly confidential physician-to-physician conversation with someone who understands what we are going through?

With a vast array of resources, including physician coaching, advocacy blogs and podcasts, health and exercise guidance, and resilience training, SurgeonMasters provides a supportive, nonjudgmental, and enriching environment for self-development. Coaching is one avenue that provides an environment for confidential peer-to-peer connections.

Reach out to to learn more.

How to Ensure Physician Wellness Programs are NOT Like Lipstick on a Pig

In her article entitled “Physician wellness programs are lipstick on a pig” Linda Drozdowicz, MD argues that physician wellness programs are essentially lipstick on a pig, and do not address the underlying issues that lead to burnout. She goes on to state that these programs can act as a form of unintended victim blaming - giving the impression that doctors just need to take better care of themselves to not feel burnout. In this article, we are going to discuss how physician wellness programs are NOT like lipstick on a pig when the right conditions and commitments from stakeholders are met.


Physician Wellness Requires the Right Tools

Dr. Drozdowicz brings up some salient points about the state of the healthcare system and how it is set up to lead doctors down the path to burnout. However, I would like for her and others to consider that physician wellness programs can be effective when deployed correctly and when victim blaming is avoided.

Physician wellness efforts are not inherently bad. They tend to be ineffective when they don’t have adequate funding or are seemingly intended to just check a box. They work best if certain conditions are in place. These include:

  • Education and Resources - Education designed to raise awareness and offer next steps is a great start. No program provides a magic elixir. Let’s offer helpful resources without shame and blame. Since we all view wellness a little differently, we can expect that a successful wellness program will have a menu of items from which to select.

  • Leadership AND Grassroots Support and Input - It is critical to have leadership active in the conversation, AND active input from the players most directly impacted. Dialogue isn’t nearly enough - those directly involved in patient care need to feel like their voices are being heard in the actions taken by the leadership.

  • Financial and Administrative Investment - Healthcare is not free, and neither is the care of healthcare professionals. What is invested upfront in our well-being will be paid back in multiple ways, including improved patient safety, outcomes, and satisfaction, as well as lower litigation risk, physician turnover, and dissatisfaction.

  • Effort to Control the Causes of Stress and Frustration - There’s no doubt about what is frustrating physicians most - everything in the system that isn’t directly about patient care! Let’s make REAL efforts to minimize the impact of these causes - like EHR and paperwork - and we’ll start to see our environment improve.

With these conditions in place, wellness programs can go a long way to preventing burnout and encouraging healthy lives for physicians both at work and at home.

Awareness Resources

If you are interested in more physician wellness resources, SurgeonMasters has you covered. We regularly post blogs, podcasts, and webinars with helpful tips on how to prevent burnout and sustain a thriving surgical career. Interested in 1-on-1 coaching, or coach training?

Reach out to to learn more.