For as long as I can remember I’ve been looking for happiness in my medical career.   After all, if it’s not adding to my happiness, why continue to do it?  No one seeks a profession to feel pressure, unappreciated, stressed out, and overwhelmed.  And yet with all that there is still so much to love about medicine. 

Taking care of patients, of people, and having a positive impact in someone’s life feels really good at the end of a long shift. Listening to the chief complaint and the relevant history, making the diagnosis, and educating patients about their treatment plan is a worthy endeavor.

But the dance in medicine is real.  Moments in happiness and connection may quickly be overshadowed by stress and frustration. 

In my early career, I’d look at senior physicians wondering, “What is their secret to happiness in medicine.” Then I realized many physicians simply accepted what is. There was no secret. 

That was not for me. 

I went into medicine to positively impact people’s lives, including my own.  There had to be a way to navigate the challenges and find happiness. 

On my journey to discover my happiness in medicine, I learned there were habits that once I released, would allow my happiness to flow.    

Here are the 3 Happiness-Stealing Habits once released, happiness flows. 

1. Allowing the energy of others to influence my state of joy.

Evening shifts could be a challenge, not due to time, but because the energy of the day would bleed over into the next shift. If the day was busy with multiple births, admissions, and transfers then hurried, overwhelmed, drained energy would meet the incoming team. Report was not simply the transfer of patient information, labs to follow up and anticipatory guidance. It was the transfer of energy. Learning how to protect my energy was one of the best practices to bring ease and flow to the overnight shift.  Yes, there were admissions and procedures and parents to update.  Managing my energy and focusing on my purpose allowed me access to happiness.

2. Watching the clock. 

My favorite mantra during a busy overnight shift was “Morning always comes.” While it was a cute saying, there were times when the energy around it was heavy.  It meant there was an urgency for the morning team to arrive and take over.  As an early career physician, I underestimated the power of that mantra.  As I continued on the journey in medicine, I’ve come to realize that it means I am feeling alone and unsupported.  I’ve stopped watching the clock and started to ask for what I need. Who on this team can provide support in delivering optimal patient care?  What additional resources are available?  And here’s a big one:  Am I taking on too much?

When I focus on my zone of genius, the patients receive the best from me, team members work from their zone of genius and everyone wins.  

3. Living in a state of emergency instead of being the CEO: Chief Energy Officer.

You know exactly what I mean.  The state of emergency is the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach every time the phone rings or the pager goes off when you are on call.  Ever notice how all day long when there is a full complement of team, nothing happens.  But right after sign-out when the team is scaled down, you are needed in 2 different places at the same time.  That energy drain takes you from ease and flow to angst and emergency.  It robs you of all joy, leaving you questioning WHY???? 

After years, even decades, of living in this state of emergency, it can challenging to give up.  But give it up we must to find happiness in medicine. Learning how to manage my energy, especially in high acuity settings, restores the calm and peace that opens the door to happiness.