The Greatest Mindset Shift You Can Make as a Physician

February 13, 2023
As physicians, there are many challenges that get thrown our way during the course of a year, a work week, or even a single clinical shift. And if you don’t know how to manage these stressors and adjust your attitude accordingly, then staying healthy, positive, and productive as a medical professional can feel seemingly impossible.
That’s exactly the position I found myself in one day, stressed out and bubbling over with frustration, until I received the insight I needed to jump back into work with a renewed passion.

A Day in the Life of a Frustrated Physician

Picture this: It’s my turn to run the anesthesia staffing board.

I’ve got to figure out how to staff 20 rooms with 18 staff. Four of the rooms are mine, so I’m responsible for my usual daily workload on top of the staffing responsibilities. 

In short, it’s a rough morning shift—even by a physician’s standards.

So, how does one fit 20 patients into 18 boxes? It’s a matter of tact, stalling, pleading, creativity, and panache. All the while, I’m fielding phone calls for epidural requests. My only means of delivering them is to call on a fellow anesthesiologist to go to the labor floor and take care of the situation.

Our conversation goes a little something like this:

“Hey Roland, can you go place an epidural in room 18?” I benignly request.

The response that I get can fall on a spectrum. At the two ends of this spectrum are:

Sure thing, I’ll take care of it right now 🙂 or, “Are you serious? No, I had to do one earlier this morning. I’m not doing it. Call someone else.”

I receive the latter.

I take a deep breath and do what it takes to not scream back into the phone. I call someone else, who happily obliges. But the frustration lingers. Moreover, as I check off my laundry list of tasks for the day, I find that my motivation to get through the tasks has dwindled. 

The day passes more slowly and the negativity from that morning has rubbed off on me. Sure, that shift was going to be tough no matter what. However, with my attitude stormier than when I walked through the door, everything about work has been made harder. 

I’ve gone from thinking, “How can I solve these problems and get the job done?” to “How can I just skip to the end of the day?”… and everyone (especially me) will be worse off because of it.

The Mindset That Transformed My Approach to Work

I recently tasked a CRNA with going straight from one arduous assignment to another. I felt bad, and prefaced the conversation with,

“Sorry to do this to you, Carla, but can you set up interventional radiology for a PEG tube placement?”

“Sure, Bri. Don’t worry about it… I came here to work.”

Those five words! “I came here to work.” As if the angels above were screaming them into my ears, as tears of joy slid down my cheeks. If everyone embraced this mentality, life would be so much easier! And while I like to think this mantra is central to my own practice, it helped to hear it explicitly spoken, to kick it up to the forefront of my mind. 

The next night, I’m on call overnight at the hospital, the only anesthesiologist available to provide care. We’ve got some Ex-Laps, a cold limb, and some GYN emergencies. At around 4:15 a.m., I finally trot back to the call room to lie down, and the phone rings. 

“Hi! We need an epidural in room 11.” 

“Gah!” I want to scream, but don’t even have the energy to do so in my 21st hour. But then I remember. “I came here to work,” not to sleep or take it easy. While it would have been more comfortable or easier to just lay in bed, my duty and job is to deliver, and I’ve been called on to do so. 

How This Motivated Mindset Can Benefit You

No matter what phase of training you are in, this subtle reminder is a wonderful axiom to return to. The patient’s spouse has questions about the treatment plan after you just spent 35 minutes explaining it to the patient? You are slammed, but owe it to the spouse to spell it out again.

You came here to work. So you get up and tell the story again with a smile. 

The ED calls with a fresh admission at midnight. You thought you had everything (including yourself) tucked in for a gentle night, but the hospitalist team is full and the teaching service is taking on extra patients. You’re there to work, so you answer the phone cordially and accept the admission as if your list were empty and it’s 1 p.m.

It may not sound like much, but a small change in mindset can change your attitude immensely. If you are there to skirt by, to dodge responsibility, or give it 75%, anything more that is asked of you is completely an imposition. But if you show up to work, and you are given work, you are just doing your job.

So, tomorrow when you head into work, try to embrace a work-hard mentality. You’ll find the day will be made easier as a result—for yourself, and everyone around you.

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By Brian Radvansky, MD

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