Published in American Urological Association News - January 2019

Reprinted with permission from AUANews, volume 24, issue 1, 2019; © American Urological Association 2019.

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Grumpy Old Surgeons

I know my fair share of grumpy surgeons, and at times, I have been one of them. I am not making excuses but the pressure of working in the health care industry sometimes takes me away from my purpose and turns me into a grumpy old surgeon. The great news is that I am much less grumpy now with my strategies to create wellness in all areas of my life. I am well on the path to not being a “grumpy old” surgeon.

When my kids were really young, I was given the book Mr. Grumpy. We had several of Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Men and Little Miss series books for young children to read and learn about emotions. The Mr. Grumpy book was designated for me. While I continue to work just as hard as I did in those days, I am not nearly as overworked, overstressed or burned out. Now I am aware that burnout and a lack of wellness strategies can create grumpy.

What can grumpy old surgeons do to address the symptoms of grumpy? What can young and middle-aged surgeons do to avoid becoming grumpy old surgeons?

Practice Gratitude

I have always met these calls for gratitude with a profound amount of resistance (although I can’t pin down exactly why). Maybe my neural pathways for grumpy are still too accessible. I cannot disregard that I have made many phenomenal positive transitions during the last few years. Whether becoming a better eater, a better writer, more effective or more optimistic, each of these improvements has come as a result of practice. I encourage you to have faith in the proven strategy of a gratitude practice. Research has shown that daily gratitude habits have many benefits including reducing depression, increasing mental strength in those who experience post-traumatic stress and improving our sense of personal accomplishment.

Consider starting or adding to your daily gratitude practice with a few written words of gratitude or a mindful exercise of what you are thankful for that day.

Recover Purpose

While in training, my primary purpose was to become a doctor and then a surgeon but after that, I think I went on autopilot and failed to determine my purpose moving forward. It can be helpful to think about why we became surgeons in the first place. However, new purposes can be discovered (even for retired or grumpy old surgeons). While there can be significant benefits, including happiness, when we have a focus on purpose, there are benefits to having any purpose. For example, many burned out surgeons could seek to simply be less grumpy or less burned out.

Consider reflecting on what you enjoy in your life and practice, and create a goal to incrementally add more of that. Alternatively, set a realistic goal for yourself, and then work hard to achieve that goal.

Experience Wellness

We are more effective assisting patients through illness, injury and recovery when we experience wellness for ourselves. Health care has too many distractions from provider wellness. We are trained to work excruciatingly long hours, often at the expense of our own health. Surgical training makes us particularly skilled at suffering at the expense of others. From my experience, you won’t be able to adjust all of your habits of diet, sleep, exercise and others all at once. What if you just took on one adjustment at a time?

Consider making one healthier adjustment to your life each month. Whether you are currently burned out, surviving or thriving, each of these strategies can help you lessen your grumpy and increase your ability to experience more wellness. Stay Well.