Physician Know Thyself

I’ve been thinking a lot about Kathy Caprino’s article that I mentioned in a prior blog post (“Guilt Is Not A Career Platform”). The issue of not knowing yourself really stuck with me. I was actually chatting about it with the hubby the other day, and he asked me, “Well who DO you know in medicine who is really happy with their career and really knows what they want??”

What an outstanding question.

I thought of course I’d immediately be able to come up with a bunch of colleagues that were satisfied and happy in their work. Sadly, as I ticked off the list in my head, I realized that it was much harder than I thought. Most of my friends from my old department were wrestling with a lot of the same things I was, and weren’t winning the battle either.

But finally, it happened.

I remembered the dean of the medical school where I used to work, Gary, who may have been one of the happiest people I have ever met on the planet. This guy literally whistled while he worked. So I asked myself, what was it exactly that he had going on that the rest of us were missing?

And the answer I came up with was that this man took nosce te ipsum to a whole new level.

Gary certainly was as busy as the rest of us, if not more so. In addition to being an extremely active and involved dean (with all of the administration and red tape that comes along with the job), he also still held clinic weekly and carried a regular patient load. Gary had every right to be cranky, put-upon, and unhappy. Except that he wasn’t.

I think Gary had simply found the absolute perfect career for himself.

Gary was the kind of dean who inspired even student he met. He loved to teach. He grabbed teaching moments every chance he got. He personally sponsored an annual award ceremony that acknowledged the best teaching residents in the hospital. Illuminating medical student’s lives was his passion. And he took it upon himself to truly know all of them, every year. They absolutely worshipped him, and he inspired them to become great doctors. But it didn’t stop with his students. He had the same effect on his colleagues. We all wanted to be better doctors because of the way he made us feel. His knowledge and his presence lit up a room.

But medicine was not Gary’s entire existence. He was apparently a real fishing enthusiast too. The only reason I even knew this was because of a random encounter I had with him at the hospital.

I was still a resident, and I had been on call Friday night in the ICU. It had been a really intense call night, and my head had not even come close to touching a pillow. When I was finally free to go home on Saturday afternoon, I stumbled out to the parking garage, squinting in the bright sunlight, to find that my car was gone.

It took me a few minutes in my post-call fog to figure out what had happened, but I finally remembered that I had been forced to valet my car on Friday because the garage had been so packed (this was unfortunately a common occurrence). Over the weekend, that particular garage wasn’t manned, so the valets moved all of the cars over to a central garage where an actual person was working.

I realized I was clear on the wrong side of campus, and started exhaustedly trudging back the way I came, hoping that my car would indeed be in the main campus garage. As I dragged myself back up the hill and passed the Medical School, who should come bopping out but Gary. In full-on fly fishing vest, waders, and floppy hat complete with pinned-on lures.

“Hey Lumi! Where you headed?”

I said I should ask him the same thing.

“Oh, I’m off to go fishing – I go pretty much every Saturday. It’s great just being out there, even if you don’t catch anything!” Truly, the man’s optimism was mildly nauseating.

I asked him what he was doing at the medical school.

“Oh, I like to come in on Saturday mornings if I can, just to get some stuff done. It’s nice and quiet.” (So the man voluntarily comes in on his day off just to catch up on “stuff”.) “So where are you headed? Are you getting out of here?”

I said I was trying, but I hadn’t exactly located my car yet. I told him about the valet situation.

“Yeah, it probably is in the other garage. Hopefully you’ll get home soon – you must be exhausted! But listen, if for some bizarre reason it’s not there, here’s my cell number. Just give me a call and I’ll make sure you get home.”

This is how Gary was every single day. He loved his job. He loved stuff other than his job. And he knew himself. You can’t fake that kind of enthusiasm and kindness for very long without going completely insane.

I drove home from work yesterday after a very long, hard day, and was smiling because I felt so good about my job. For a long time I didn’t realize that you can actually enjoy those really tough, draining days. And maybe you should be able to enjoy some of them. I am knowing myself better every day.

I hope Gary would be proud.

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2 thoughts on “Physician Know Thyself

    • Hi John-

      Thanks so much for reminding me about John’s fabulous blog! It had been while since I visited it, and it was good to go back and read some of his recent posts. I agree with you completely – he definitely strikes me as someone who knows his own strengths and needs, and maintains a well-rounded life. His recent post about his wife’s chemotherapy treatment and the life decisions they have made during her treatment speak very eloquently to knowing what works for them, regardless of what others may think. http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com/2012/03/our-cancer-journey-week-14.html

      Thanks for reading-

      ~lumi

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