Hey Doc! What Does Independence Mean to You?

Happy 4th of July. Happy INDEPENDENCE Day!

Today is the day we celebrate the declaration of independence from British rule in 1776. It means a great deal to our country and our citizens.

Independence is also important in the development of the many roles we play throughout our lives - spouse, surgeon, parent, educator, colleague, leader - the list goes on.

What does independence mean to you?

How does that view change through the lens of each of your many roles?


Most of us have sought and declared our independence in several key ways throughout our life and career. We have moved out of our parents’ home. We have completed our training to take our first official “job.” We have navigated the difficulties of finding a new position with a better fit.

How much did your surgical training focus on your ability to gain independence? From my personal experience and from many of the surgeons that I talk to, independence was perhaps the primary focus.

As a young child I was required to be very independent, despite having several older siblings. Perhaps I have a very independent personality, and my path has likely been steered by good and bad experiences of my past. Some of us have declared our independence from the rules, restrictions, harm, or threats of another person, employer, or system. A declaration of independence defines who we are and what we stand for. It also defines who we are not.

Self-rule, self-determination and autonomy are synonyms of independence that ring true for many of us, and I am well aware of the benefits of being in control when it comes to wellness and burnout prevention. Freedom, liberty, and sovereignty also speak to each of us in different ways, depending upon our prior experiences in life and as surgeons, as well as from the view of our roles as citizens, surgeons or other roles.

Out of US independence came a new set of rules. Dependence, independence and interdependence are all part of our development process. We are dependent upon each other, as we cannot function without one another. We need to be part of a team, an organization, a community, a nation and a society. Our interdependence is the synergy that allows us to succeed, to grow, to care for our patients, and to solve complex problems.

Where are you in this repeating cycle in your life or career?

How are you seeking more independence, dependence, or interdependence? Are you seeking less independence, dependence, or interdependence?

Our nation celebrates its independence at the same time as it is struggling with opposing views and perspectives. If we want to succeed, grow, and begin to solve complex problems, we will need to seek interdependence. If you want to succeed, grow, and begin to solve your complex problems, you may need to apply strategies of independence, dependence, and interdependence.

While there are many strategies to learn, understand and implement your plan, I have found the following to be a great starting point:

  • Networking and Connections: Who do you know? Who are you hanging out with? Often our world has become too narrow and isolated. Why not reach out to make connections? What if these start as collaborative with an exploration for win-win activities? What if these were in the service of others, as healthy interdependence requires time to build trust.
  • Communicate with Mutual Understanding: Listen with the focus on truly understanding another person’s perspective. Avoid thinking about your rebuttal while the other is speaking. Ask clarifying questions and even open-ended questions such as how, what, and why with genuine curiosity. When appropriate, ask that you also be able to share your perspective, and allow the other to ask questions.
  • Create Synergy: The differing perspectives will lead to conflict, compromise, and the opportunity for creative solutions. Healthy empathy or compassion to others will build trust over time. Explore the shared goals which will be the foundation for your interdependence.

As you reflect on independence, dependence, and interdependence, what is your current plan of action for your life and practice? Now you can reach out to me to discuss it or … just go do it!