Practicing medicine isn't just about the tangible rewards. Sometimes it's the intangible rewards that provide the most fulfillment.
Vandna Jerath, MD, FACOG, is a solo ob/gyn physician in private practice, women’s health blogger, and healthcare social media expert. She is the medical director at Optima Women’s Healthcare and Optima Vitality MD, Parker, Colorado. She can be reached at vjerathmd@optimawomenshealthcare.
Often it is the smallest and briefest moments of humanity that bring us the greatest joy and fulfillment in medicine. Whether it is a simple thank-you card, surprise gift, smile, hug, an interesting story, or tears from the patient (or from us), an everlasting impression and bond is created. Of course, we find joy and fulfillment in delivering a baby, doing surgery, consulting on a challenging clinical case, or being recognized for a professional achievement. But often, the little things mean the most. Here are some of the simple ways I find joy and fulfillment in medicine:
1. Patient Gratitude – Two little words can have a powerful impact: “THANK YOU.” When a patient says thank you with sincerity and appreciation, it makes it all worth it. When you hear a patient say thank you, believe her and know you made a difference. It also feels special to receive a handwritten thank-you card from a patient showing her appreciation. I am deeply moved by the sentiments patients share during these moments of gratitude. Sometimes, I receive thank-you gifts from patients which are thoughtful and meaningful gestures that make me smile.
2. Learning from a Patient – I love to learn something new every day. We have had life-long learning in medical school, our ob/gyn residency programs, and in our careers with CME (Continuing Medical Education) and MOC (Maintenance Of Certification). It can be interesting to learn something different. When a patient has a complex medical problem outside of ob/gyn, I enjoy learning the details about how she was diagnosed and treated. Not only is the patient glad to share her story, but I also stay informed on other areas of medicine. Sometimes, I just like learning fun stuff or interesting things. Recently, a patient told me she fell at a Denver Broncos game and received stitches in her knee. I thought she went to an urgent care or the ER, but I learned that the patient actually received stitches from a resident doctor at the stadium clinic for free! I already love the Broncos and now I love them even more. Who offers free healthcare?
3. Simple Compliments – You know that feeling when instead of getting a pat on the back, someone compliments you to someone else? I don’t need anyone to shout my praises from a mountain top, but when they quietly share my praise, it means so much more. This is true whether it is a simple compliment or referral from a patient, nurse, colleague, or administrator. When someone says, “I’ve heard great things about you . . .” - it simply makes you feel great! A few years ago, I delivered a patient who had twins who developed severe preeclampsia, HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, and Low Platelets) syndrome, and respiratory distress moments after birth. She ended up in the intensive care unit and I spent 60 hours at her bedside caring for her and praying, until she recovered. About a year later, I overheard a nurse tell one of my patients that I was the best person to have in a high-risk or complex situation and relate to the patient how I stayed by my other patient’s bedside for 3 days. Wow – I had no idea any of the nurses on L&D (Labor and Delivery) even knew that I had done that. It is always wonderful to receive an unsolicited compliment and be appreciated.
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4. Patient Understanding and Acceptance – Sometimes we have good days as physicians and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are rested and sometimes we are not. Sometimes we look and feel our best and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we run on time and sometimes we do not. I appreciate patients who are understanding, tolerant, and accepting of us as hard-working physicians, but recognize that we are only human not super-human. They accept us the way we are. Patients can recognize when I’ve been up all night delivering babies or running late due to a patient emergency. When they are willing to show me compassion and understanding for not being my best, but know I work diligently on behalf of my patients, it helps me stay calm, focus, and return the same understanding and compassion to the patient. I am grateful for the woman willing to wait patiently if I am running behind, stuck with a patient emergency, or slowly typing her clinical information into my EHR (electronic health record). Some patients even demonstrate empathy by telling me to get rest or take care of myself, reassuring me it is ok to slow down, or giving me a hug when I am having a busy day. I am deeply touched to know they care about my well-being too. In February, I attended Super Bowl 50 and saw the Denver Broncos win!! Sorry I digress-talking about the Broncos again-in case you haven’t figured it out, I love football and the Broncos and have season tickets! Anyway, my patients were not only accepting of my absence from my practice, but excited for me. One even said, “I’m jealous you got to go, but I’m glad you got to go. You do so much to take care of all of your patients, it is about time for you to have a break and have some fun!”
5. Patient Referrals – Referrals are the greatest compliment from a patient or healthcare provider. It shows they have confidence in us and appreciate what we do. Patients often refer their friends, family, and co-workers, which is meaningful. I am touched by this gesture and often send a thank you card for the referral. Similarly, developing a good relationship with a primary care physician or other referring physician can exponentially grow your practice.
6. Patient Education – As much as I love to learn, I also love to teach. The more I educate my patients and community, the more they are invested in their health. I get great satisfaction from sharing my knowledge. Whether it is a blog article, social media post, or patient seminar, I enjoy providing others with reasonable and reliable health information they can trust. The informed patient is an empowered patient with whom I can build a positive and productive doctor-patient relationship, ultimately making my job easier.
7. Social Media Engagement – I am passionate about healthcare social media and use multiple platforms to educate, engage, and empower my patients, women, and the community about women’s health. It has been a successful way for me to grow my practice from the Internet, keep my patients educated and informed, build credibility within my community, and show transparency. It has also been rewarding to see patient engagement in a positive way as they post compliments or notes of appreciation, share photos, support other women, write positive reviews online, or show interest in learning more. I have had many men and women comment that they appreciate and benefit from my healthcare social media efforts. It has been an incredibly fulfilling means of connection for me.
Our jobs as physicians and healthcare providers can be stressful and exhausting. Yet they can be rewarding and fulfilling too. Sometimes it is the little things that matter, can make your day, keep you smiling, and motivate and inspire you. What are the simple ways you find joy in medicine?