Slow down, important moments ahead

July 17, 2018

Although we often take pride in our constant busyness, being too busy can be a bad thing.

Editor’s Note: Physicians Practice’s blog features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for professionals to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions are that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Physicians Practice or UBM.

I am re-reading Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe. In my copy at least a quarter of the pages are dog-eared so that I can go back and capture a gem of wisdom. One of the themes in the book is that we are all too busy and carry that busyness as a badge of honor. The problem is that we are failing at so much of what we try to do because what we try to do exceeds our capacity.

I considered this today. Work has been very busy, and I continually struggle to stay on top of the electronic flotsam that arrives in my multiple in-boxes. Every time I go into an exam room with a patient, the EHR acts like a vacuum, sucking in more refill requests, patient calls, and results.

Trying to put some of what I’ve learned from Tony’s book into action, I try to be present with my patients. Rather than thinking about the next patient waiting or the charts I haven’t finished yet, I focus on the person right in front of me for the time we have together. It is amazing how much I gain from slowing down and paying attention. There are fun moments – like when the toddler discovers my red toenails peeking out from my sandals and becomes fascinated. There are serious moments – like when my long-term patient finally trusts me enough to reveal a painful secret from her past, which defines her in ways impossible to discern without hearing the story. These are important moments that I can experience when I pause long enough to allow the real concern to bubble to the surface.

Medicine is composed of mini-meetings all day in which I get to start over with each patient. This allows me to experiment with how I provide care throughout the day. What I learned today is a lesson I frequently have to rediscover. The joy of being a doctor is that connection with another human being. When I put aside the many, many interruptions that steal my attention, energy, concentration, and joy, I am left to focus on the fun, the serious, and the important moments.

This is a lesson I can take home with me. Just like in the office, there are so many interruptions and tasks that pursue me at home. While it feels great to check something off my to-do list, there is some comfort in knowing, as Tony points out, that my best will never be enough if my to-do list requires more that I have to give. And if I overly focus on my many tasks, I would miss out on the fun moments with my children, the serious conversations with my spouse, and the everyday activities that are important.

Jennifer Frank, MD, is a family physician and physician leader in Northeastern Wisconsin and finds medicine still to be the best gig out there. Married with four kids, she is engaged in intensive study and pursuit of work-life balance.