Can Doctors Thrive?

04/30/2014 04:00 pm 16:00:49 | Updated Jun 30, 2014
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Arianna Huffington has a new book out called Thrive, and the subtitle begins to explain, "the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder."

And sure, there's a conflict of interest by writing about Huffington's work on here; she is the CEO and president of this website. And yes, it's easy for a woman in her shoes to tell the rest of us to get more sleep, to worry less about things like job security and to spend more time meditating. Watching a group of privileged women on stage chatting about the benefits of relaxation can be off-putting.

With that said, I love the point of Thrive, as obvious as it may be, and I choose to write on it. The book, which Huffington has dedicated to her mother, reminds us to slow down and take care of ourselves. I believe this message has value for men and women, in many stations of life. Huffington's point is that we undervalue how we feel as we churn through our days. We limit ourselves, and our sense of satisfaction, by defining success in terms of money and power.

Thriving involves health and wellness. Huffington suggests that we might all draw more, and benefit, from our innate gifts of wisdom, generosity and kindness. Those are valuable qualities, indeed.

Now, you might ask: Why write, or read, a book like this? Most of us already know that it's wise to get more rest, to make time for those we care about, to hit the pause button and not drive ourselves crazy trying to meet deadlines or untenable standards of thoroughness and perfection. But most working people in my community haven't yet met their ambitions. We work too hard and too much. Even though we know, in principle, that we should be mindful, enjoying life hour-by-hour, finding value in each human interaction, we rush and focus on what's next.

And if we examine the third metric, "thrivefullness," among health care providers, we'll find the condition serious. Many doctors I know, and as I used to be, offer a concerning example of failure to thrive (in the Huffington, not medical, sense). Unless you're a radiologist or emergency room physician with limited hours, choose a physically "easy" field (forgive me, dermatology friends), practice concierge medicine, make a fortune by stopping medical practice altogether and working for an investment company or something along those lines, it's hard to be a good doctor and not be stressed out -- to get enough sleep, do yoga, whatever. All that Huffington says applies to most doctors, too.

Physician burnout, which is a huge problem, results in many (and probably most) cases from overwhelming demands on doctors' time and the enormous level of responsibility they face every day. And while doctors may genuinely want to take it easy, the reality is that most in middle age are running around, seeing more patients than is prudent, not having time to examine them properly or answer calls, not reading sufficiently about their patients' conditions, and for themselves, they are lacking time to go for a run, to read a novel, to prepare a healthy meal. The hours don't add up to 24.

I do believe that most patients want their physicians to thrive. I, for one, want my doctors to be well-rested and content. Because in those circumstances, they are most likely to provide thoughtful and compassionate care.