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: resiliency 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 high intelligence, resourcefulness, compassion, resilience, 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.

If you take a moment to notice your current strategies, structures, systems and supports, you’ll likely see that you already have many in place that enhance your physician-patient relationships. And where there are holes or deficiencies, you can bet there are more available that you haven’t either considered or implemented.

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. Knowing your deeper WHY. Get clear on what your vision was.

  • What initially inspired you to get in medicine? 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 end result or impact did you/do you want to have?

3. How does the physician-patient relationship play into the above? (Go as deep and wide with your answer as you can. The more specific, the better.)

4. Describe your dream 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. Notice at least 3-5 areas of gratitude, as well as what’s already in place and working well. 

6. List your top 3 daily challenges and limitations that are holding you back from the experience/impact you want.

7. With respect to your challenges, can you find any “easy” or obvious solutions that exist, including the ones you’re already doing (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, or shaking it up. 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.

Once you have your list of ideas (aim for at least 10), highlight the Strategies, Systems, Structures and Supports currently in place that support your vision, along with any missing ones that, with a little creativity and resourcefulness, are implementable.

If better relationships with your patients is a desire for you, give this a go. I’d love to hear what comes up.

And remember, many strategies don’t need to take much, if any more, time….

From anonymous feedback boxes and patient surveys; to visualizations and deep breathing “resets” between patient rooms; to greeting patients by name while making eye contact and sharing a genuine smile; to prioritizing your own healthy habits – including time for rest, wonder, fresh air, and activities that spark joy.

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. In fact, perfection only gets in the way.

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

Keep flaming your passions and following your heart. Reach out and get support in your corner – even before you “need” it. 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. 

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.