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First Person

First Person

Keep the Passion Alive and Stave Off Burnout

Frankel, Dov MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000651036.81582.79

    I was fortunate enough to be invited to serve as a physician at Camp Simcha Special in Glen Spey, NY, this summer. The camp welcomes 230 children and teens with a wide range of diagnoses for two weeks of fun, friendship, and personal growth. Nonstop activities, bunk spirit, singing, and dancing encourage independence and build self-confidence. It is a unique opportunity for children fighting chronic illness to build a community of people with whom to share hopes and dreams as they grow.

    The camp's medical and administrative staffs are experts in caring for children with serious and debilitating chronic disorders. As a result, we can welcome children dependent on wheelchairs or walkers, respirators, gastric tubes, and other medical equipment.

    In addition to seeing how happy and carefree these children are, I am inspired by the love and dedication these young counselors and staff members have toward their campers. They are committed 100 percent to giving these children the summer of their lives. Their passion and drive are refreshing and something missing in our health care system.

    More often than not, I speak with physicians who view their role as a healer as just another job. They have lost their desire and passion to treat their patients. Unfortunately, I find that this attitude toward the practice of medicine has become pervasive throughout hospitals, clinics, and the health care system.

    What happened to the passion for caring for patients that we all had entering medical school? How quickly did we forget the Hippocratic oath we all took and the honor bestowed on us to heal? I am thankful every day for the decision I made to practice medicine. I wake up every morning excited to run to the ED, intrigued by which group of patients I will see, which skills I will put into practice, and how I can help patients through their time of suffering.

    Lots of what we read these days discuss burnout. Many attribute this to shift work, increasing demands by hospitals to meet goals, and the ever-changing electronic medical record. The amount of information we need to process on a daily basis that is not directly related to medicine is staggering and can easily lead to feeling burned out.

    I would argue, however, that many of the reasons for burnout are secondary to one prevailing concept: a lack of passion. I believe that passion and burnout, which lay on opposite ends of the spectrum, are in tight balance. As we decrease the passion for whatever it is we are doing, we increase the likelihood of becoming burned out. I would even venture to say that this concept is true in almost all aspects of life, not just medicine. It is a scary thought, but as we lose our passion for whatever it is we are doing, be it work, relationships, or even hobbies, we get burned out.

    Moreover, I believe this is part of the reason we have a difficult time with some decisions made by administration. Bureaucratization saps our energy, and may be one reason we lose passion. Our eagerness to help our patients is always driven by our passion to care. Putting finances or administrative egos ahead of passion not only causes conflict, but is harmful to our patients. The less passionate about patient care that physicians become, the more likely they are to become burned out, which leads to poor decision-making.

    A quick anecdote to emphasize where medicine has gone and what we have become: I was approached one day by a friend to evaluate his child. I was happy to help, but thought the child needed more than just a curbside evaluation, so I sent them to the ED for a workup. When they were ready for discharge, I went to say goodbye and see if there was anything else I could do before they left.

    They were extremely satisfied with their care, and said they were waiting for their discharge papers and for the nurse to remove the IV. I decided to help out and removed the patient's IV. Some may think this is beneath a physician, but I believe it is all part of our passion to heal and a part of patient care. Of course, they were ecstatic and promptly left the ED after the nurses returned with the discharge papers.

    I thought I had done a good deed as a team player, but I was chastised for removing the IV from someone who was not my patient. I was told by senior physicians that I was too passionate about patient care. Can you imagine? Too passionate about patient care? Arguably, that was one of the best backhanded compliments I have ever received. I wear it as a badge of honor that I am too passionate about patient care.

    As for the counselors and staff at Camp Simcha Special, I hope they never lose their passion for medicine and passion to excel. To me, this is one of the main ingredients that separates average physicians from the ones Hippocrates would be proud of. I look forward to watching the staff at Camp Simcha Special grow to become anything their hearts desire and keep the passion of their dreams alive. I am certain that always being passionate about whatever it is we do will prevent us from becoming burned out.

    Dr. Frankelis an emergency physician at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Maryland.

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