2020 has brought on new stressors in every facet of life. Perhaps Thanksgiving can offer a time to reset.
Thanksgiving is defined as “the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors, especially to God.” According to a June 2020 article, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, physician burnout was attributed to major changes in the healthcare system, including performance metrics and the widespread adoption of electronic health records. Moreover, these changes were found not to be limited to older physicians who were merely resistant to change; rather, “millennials, residents, and even medical students are showing signs of burnout.” The cost to the healthcare system is approximately $4.6 billion a year, during a non-pandemic year.
Most medical professionals, like some lawyers, view medicine (or law) as a calling to help others. Physicians treat and care for those who are sick, while lawyers advocate on behalf of clients, typically for justice, upholding rights, or change. Ironically, both physicians and lawyers have a dual role and the role that is common to both professions is counselor. Both professions counsel individuals – we listen (or we should), we console, and we comfort.
So, how does Thanksgiving relate to physician burn-out, emotional health, and the role of a professional (whether medicine or law)? According to Harvard Medical School, giving thanks can make you happier (and so can receiving the sentiment). Expressing gratitude is a simple, but significant act, which can lift one’s spirits.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
The article also provided simple actions, based on studies at various universities, which were simple to implement and led to more optimistic outlooks, better physical health through increased exercise, and decreased use of the health system. The suggestions include:
During this season of Thanksgiving, I wanted to give thanks to my colleagues, friends, and family who uplifted me and in turn trusted me to uplift them. No one is on their “A Game” all the time – part of it is the natural ebbs and flows of life. But, for professionals, especially our healthcare workers, which range from physicians to nurses, to dietary aides, and environmental services workers—show them gratitude. The seemingly smallest act of kindness like a “thank you” rendered when you see someone in scrubs in the grocery store can help prevent burnout and enable people to continue forging onward during these unprecedented times.
In sum, Happy Thanksgiving and to the people on the front lines of the pandemic, your dedication and caring is truly appreciated.
Rachel V. Rose, JD, MBA, advises clients on compliance and transactions in healthcare, cybersecurity, corporate and securities law, while representing plaintiffs in False Claims Act and Dodd-Frank whistleblower cases. She also teaches bioethics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Rachel can be reached through her website, www.rvrose.com.