As dermatologists and other physicians have increased focus on the problem of physician burnout, potential solutions have not always been evident. Last month I shared tips from Vinh Chung, MD, a dermatologist in Colorado Springs, CO, for finding joy in the practice of dermatology. Dr. Chung’s personal story is inspiring, as is his approach to practice.
Here are three more tips from Dr. Chung. This is a must-read for all dermatologists who are struggling with feelings of depression and burnout. I plan to devote more time and space in this column to re-discovering the joy of being a dermatologist.
Define and Refine Your Purpose
“Choose to focus on why you went to medical school rather than shoot for a specific job. When we focus only on the quantifiable features of what a job must look like, we sell ourselves short.
“When we were in our 20s we did not choose to go into medicine just to get a job. We wanted to save lives and to change the world. Why would we settle for anything less today?
“At some point, purpose must trump security. If all we want is security at all costs, we may end up hoping and waiting for private equity to bail us out or for Medicare to pay us more. We become victims of the decisions of others.
“We must never forget that there is always dignity in our work if we understand why we are doing it. In college, I scrubbed toilets for minimum wage to pay for textbooks. Today, I use the same set of hands to perform Mohs surgery. Without scrubbing toilets, I would have never gained the privilege of doing what I do today. There is dignity and honor in everything you do as long as you can connect it to the higher purpose. You must always look beyond ‘what’ and understand ‘why.’”
Rest and Reflect
“Medicine, as a science, tends to reduce our understanding of reality to the molecular level. This strategy allows us to understand how something works.
“Over time, we have stripped away from our vocabulary and therefore the significance of concepts such as ‘hope,’ ‘faith,’ ‘purpose,’ and ‘God.’ Just as a musical piece that moves us to tears is more than just sound waves, we are more than an organism that needs oxygen, food, water, and shelter.
“Beyond the physical rest that a vacation brings, I have found it helpful to read and reflect on topics from the humanities. I have realized that I must restore not only my body, but also my soul.”
Practice Medicine as a Team Sport
“We all became board-certified dermatologists because of our individual abilities and efforts. However, practicing medicine as a sole performer is neither effective nor sustainable. Regardless of what I have accomplished on my resume, I am utterly worthless if my histotech does not prepare high-quality Mohs slides. The quality of my day is dictated by the performance of my team, not by what I have accomplished in my past. How then do we get our team to perform with excellence?
“Our title, by default, puts us into a leadership role, but our title is never enough to lead effectively. We must serve our team and inspire them. Ultimately, we lead by becoming leaders worth following. Our team must know where we are going and why we exist. We must authentically and clearly communicate a worthwhile mission. When we then live it, breathe it, and bleed it, our team will follow. And they can help us to save lives and to change the world.”
Dr. Chung was born in South Vietnam, eight months after it fell in 1975. His family lost everything and in 1979 they joined the “boat people” and sailed into the South China Sea.
Dr. Chung is the founder of Vanguard Skin Specialists, www.vanguardskin.com. His memoir Where The Wind Leads is available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide. He holds a Master of Theology and has a passion for pursuing medicine with a purpose. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.