In this article, I would like to review a recent blog written by SurgeonMasters contributor Kristin Long, MD, FACS. Dr. Long recently returned from a two week surgical mission trip to rural western Kenya, where she and her team performed 62 surgical procedures and treated upwards of 475 patients in 4 clinical days. Upon her return she had many insights into the overwhelming nature of such trips and what she had to deal with when she got back to her job.
Exhaustion & Emotional Fulfillment
“Thinking back on the incredible levels of stress and exhaustion we all endured, I’m even more amazed by the scope and quality of work we were able to accomplish,” Dr. Long writes. “Within a few short days of returning, I found myself digging through a backlogged email inbox, EMR in basket, and life in general. Among my favorites were the administrative email noting that I had one week in which to complete my “respiratory fit testing” or my hospital privileges would be revoked, as well as a reminder of a delinquency for the annual online HIPAA training module.”
When our hard and exhausting work appears to have purpose, we are fulfilled emotionally, even though we may be drained mentally and physically (as well as emotionally). The overall experience is POSITIVE!
In contrast, her "productive" work getting caught up on emails, EMR in-basket, and administrative tasks? These activities were lacking in purpose. The results were almost completely a drain or feeling of "empty" when the tasks were completed.
When the purpose is trivial to us, it is not fulfilling. These burdens are typically not about providing care to patients. There may be a purpose to those who created the rule or policy. However, the presentation as mandatory or that we are delinquent immediately puts us on the defensive. Often the training is common sense, and little effort is placed on the value of our time and goals. This is counterproductive to decreasing burnout and creating wellness. In fact, it creates disillusionment.
Receiving Inspiration Through Shared Goals
“We came together, working for a common goal, and let that guide us,” Dr. Long remembers of the mission in Keyna. “Everyone stayed late, everyone checked in on one another, and NO ONE uttered the phrase “that’s not my job.” The spirit of camaraderie and dedication was enough to remind each of us why we went into health CARE in the first place.”
What Dr. Long describes here is her Passion for Performance Improvement. It’s easy to lose sight of this during our day to day work as surgeons. Sometimes we need to take a step back and re-examine our situation, and the world at large to find our center again and continue doing the important work that we do.
At SurgeonMasters, our goal is to help physicians create sustainable and lifestyle-friendly practices. We are a collective of like-minded surgeons offering educational resources (articles, podcasts, webinars and more) to help physicians prevent burnout and improve well-being.
Kristin Long, MD, FACS is an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrine Surgery and the Division of General Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She specializes in treating both benign and malignant disease of the thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands. She is an active member of several specialty societies, including the American College of Surgeons, the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, and the Association for Academic Surgery. Dr. Long is particularly interested in the surgical treatment and management of thyroid carcinoma and hereditary endocrine disorders such as Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndromes. She is also interested in global surgery, particularly in developing countries, and improving access to specialized care for patients with unique endocrine disorders.