Inability to establish strong doctor-patient relationships as physicians did in the past, is revealing itself to be a main factor of physician burn-out today. Enhancing the physician-patient relationships within our current health care system isn’t easy at the individual physician level, but possibilities still exist. 

Let’s be clear: mindfulness training, adequate sleep and self-care habits are all helpful, but not the complete answer.

Physicians have been shining the light on the limitations and challenges of medical system more and more recently, and how it’s essentially setting physicians up for failure despite their intellect, and extreme levels of resiliency, resourcefulness, compassion and effort.

What we’re hearing is that fulfillment, health and burnout prevention/recovery can’t be fully solved at the individual level.

Since it’s a system problem, it must be addressed at the larger system level.

However, there is good news.

While the system catches up in prioritizing resident and physician health, there are still ways individual physicians can make a difference.

As a Precision Nutrition ProCoach, we talk the 4 “S’s”: Strategies, Structures, Systems and Support.

When you take a clear look, you’ll likely see that you already have many strategies, structures, systems and supports that are working well. And that there are also holes or deficiencies in at a least one if not more of these “S’s”.

If you’re feeling stuck and willing to entertain a new way, a great place to start is by clarifying a few key parts of your vision – all of these pieces are foundational to your happiness and fulfillment, yet too many skip this part and then wonder why they’re struggling, feeling empty, or unfulfilled despite great achievements.

Here they are:

1. What’s Your WHY? What was your initial vision, hopes and dreams that led to med school?


  • When you dreamt about becoming a doctor, what about the vision made your spirit soar?
  • What about medicine or being a physician are you passionate about/makes you come alive?

2. What result or impact did you, and do you, want to have?

3. How does the physician-patient relationship play into the above?

  • Go as deep and wide here as you can.

4. Describe your ideal physician-patient relationship.

  • What does it look, feel and sound like?
  • What’s present? What’s not present?
  • Who are you being? Who are you not being?
  • What’s the best part?

5. What’s already in place and working well?

6. What top 3 daily challenges and limitations are holding you back from the above?

7. As you get clear on these specific challenges/limitations do any “easy” or obvious solutions surface?

  • Think of the 4 S’s: Strategies, Structures, Systems and Supports)? If so, write them down.

8. Next, dig deeper… get those creative juices flowing and let yourself get a little ‘wild’ with the possibilities.

  • In coaching, we call this stirring the pot. Although shaking a bottle of water doesn’t change the taste of it, the molecules settle a little differently.
  • How this applies to you is that by going BIG and blowing the roof off what is “realistic”, you “shake” your thoughts up – including the ones holding you back.
  • The post-settling often invites new insights, ideas and possibilities.

Important: this is NOT about staying realistic and it’s not an action list. This is a thought exercise to spark creativity and ideas. It can be quite fun!

Your wildest and craziest idea is likely not possible, but it may be with a shift in any of the S’s. At the very least, it may lead to other actionable ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

It may seem like a lot, but if you’d like change, yet feeling stuck, this exercise is worth your time.

You’re doing great work in this world, and you don’t need to be perfect to make the difference you’re here to make.

Know that you matter just as much as those you serve, and you’re too important to burn out. So prioritize yourself and hold healthy boundaries – especially when the heat of work, family and life turns up.

Lastly, remember, the more we support others, the more we also need our own corner support. This is the only way we can keep showing up strong, happy, healthy and “full”. The alternative is burnout – every time. Keep flaming your passions and following your heart. Reach out and get support in your corner, ideally before you “need” it. 

Lastly, dare to roar. Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. Only when we speak up with courage, can we shine light on issues and call for needed change.