of a Practicing Physician
by Dr. J. Masson
It is no secret
that there is an alarming decline in the personal wellbeing of
those on whom we rely for our own health care. We care deeply about
what is happening to those in the health care professions. Our
belief is that we all, instinctively, know exactly what we need
to do/be for us to be fully alive and well.
Masson, in addition to the depth of experience and wisdom that
comes with a practice that spans two decades, is a WEL-Systems
Master Facilitator. As a staff psychiatrist at the University of
Toronto Health Services, we invite you to step into her world and
allow yourself to be touched by her experience.
We are in trouble. Who are we? Traditionally trained medical doctors
serving Canadian communities. Somewhere along the way, we allowed
ourselves to be separated from the human beings we try to help. Maybe
it was the acceptance of powerful projections such as "savior", 'magical'
or 'special'. Perhaps we have secret truths in the realm of life,
death and madness. The true 'secret truth' is that we are ordinary
people, struggling to live, love, laugh, cry and hopefully move forward
on our own personal and interpersonal journeys.
We also have a job chosen before we knew much about life. We sometimes
work alone and sometimes with a team of people, as we participate
in healing, helping and caring for those in physical and emotional
need. And we carefully separate ourselves from our 'patients', thinking
to remain safe from the pain and suffering presented to us. And as
we do this, we unknowingly separate from a part of ourselves.
Who am I? I am a staff psychiatrist at the University of Toronto
Health Services. Over the years, I have seen medical students, residents
and physicians in distress. However, recent trends in physician health
have become alarming.
In 1996, the CMA and AMA (Canadian and American Medical Associations)
sponsored a conference to look at physician health. Demoralization,
tension in the workplace and underestimating our own health needs
were major issues. One speaker put it well: "It's hard for doctors
to help other doctors because we see our own problems and failings.
It's like looking at the cracks in a mirror." He urged physicians
to "protect the balance" in their lives.
In the fall of 2002, at the International Conference on Physician
Health, participants highlighted that physician stress and burnout
were at an all-time high. Questionnaire results indicated that doctors
were working an average of 53-54 hours a week, not including 'on
call' hours. Almost 60% felt that their family and personal lives
were suffering because they had chosen medicine as a profession.
Especially vulnerable groups are medical students, residents, women
and rural doctors.
To summarize, dissatisfaction is high, morale is low and individuals
are leaving the country or the profession.
We need help!
I would like to share with you a one-week experience I had in July
2003 that was very helpful and healing for this physician. As a practitioner
of NLP for many years, I was looking for ways of integrating NLP
into my practice. I enrolled in the WEL-Systems Institute program "Influencing
with Intention" to explore how this group put forward NLP concepts.
I received much more than NLP.
On the second day of the workshop, to my surprise, I found myself
remembering a conversation I had with a patient, nearly 20 years
ago (during my residency). I have never been able to tell anyone
the content of our session, or even to think about it by myself,
without tears rolling down my cheeks. One of the facilitator's invited
me to breathe, and focus at a point way down at the base of my spine.
Then I was asked where in my body I was experiencing the 'emotion'.
I was supported in allowing the feeling to move to my whole body
on the base of my spine. After about 10 minutes my tears stopped.
The sensation of being overwhelmed stopped. As we moved ahead with
our program, I noticed that for the first time in 20 years I could
remember my patient's story without tears. I still perceived the
tragedy and pain of this person's life experience but somehow the
information was integrated in a new way. It was as if the content
of this true horror story had changed its position in space relative
to my life.
This was not a single event. Floods of deeply felt memories not
truly relegated to the past emerged: from my first experience with
death to the realization that many of my teachers thought that becoming
a Doctor was about information. It's not. It's about people. You
and me, together, moving forward.
The CMA has developed a policy
suggesting that medical students, residents and physicians should
participate in activities to prevent the difficulties we are experiencing
as a profession. In this doctor's opinion, perhaps all health care
workers should carry with them knowledge and experience of The CODE
Model and thus work daily
at integrating their stressful lives.
Dr. J. Masson
This article may be reproduced, provided it is reproduced
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Jackie Masson, in addition to her many creditials and
life experiences, is now also certified as WEL-Systems Catalyst and Code