“I thought I was the only one.” I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve heard this statement. Physicians, health care leaders, men, women, nurse leaders, administrators – the list goes on – speaking with some sadness from a history laced with loneliness, and also now with gratitude from the hope stirred by community. I know it too well myself from my own journey as a leader.
The isolation experienced by leaders of all kinds, and certainly in medicine and health care, often goes unacknowledged. At least it wasn’t something I was taught years ago in my medical training, nor raised as I was mentored as a leader. So I was unprepared for the loneliness that arose as responsibilities and expectations increased.
It’s not surprising that the first time physicians and leaders sit in a Circle of Trust, they are startled by the degree of support they experience from being with a community of peers who are reflecting individually and together on questions with personal and professional meaning. For many it is the first bridging from isolation into sharing their inner experience of leadership.
As leaders we tend to split off parts of ourselves, particularly our inner experiences, putting them aside for a seemingly endless list of reasons: we have no time to explore them; we fear that sharing them may make us look weak or less competent; we’ve been told there is no place for emotions or the personal in our care or work; and many more.
When we do this, we risk depersonalization and emotional exhaustion, some of the symptoms of burnout, a condition that now affects almost half of physicians in the U.S.. This comes at a crucial time when we need more clinicians available to care for the newly insured as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect and more Americans have access to health care.
A recent set of articles in the New York Times by David Bornstein addressed the risks of burnout and highlighted programs developed by Rachel Naomi Remen MD to raise self-awareness in medical students and to support physicians in their continuing journey. The intensity of the problem was mirrored by the vast number of comments that ensued online and the stories shared about experiences of heartwarming connection and of heartbreaking isolation in medical education, training, and practice.
At the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care’s Annual Innovation Conference on Monday, Darrell Kirch MD, the president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, spoke in his keynote address about the need for leaders who know themselves and are able to lead others collaboratively from a place of deep integrity. In the moment when we as leaders say, “I thought I was the only one,” we are beginning to recognize that we share questions and doubts in our leadership, times when our values feel at risk, and fatigue as we struggle to serve our patients, students, teams, and communities well.
Our Health Care Institute, serves as an entry point where leaders come together to explore the inner strength of leadership, how to maintain their personal and professional integrity, renew their purpose, and lead others in the face of uncertainty and change. It’s a place where the space between us begins to close in a trustworthy circle of peers and the door opens to more personal resilience and organizational vitality. Join us if you can.