REFLECTION ON COMPASSION
It seems apropos during the holiday season to offer a few thoughts about compassion. Most of us who choose to enter medicine do so at least in part out of compassion for others; we willingly make personal sacrifices in order to better serve our patients, and we cultivate this virtue in ourselves and our colleagues.
But, as with all virtues, proportionality and context are important. There is increasing evidence that our compassion for others must be balanced with self-compassion for optimal results. This doesn’t mean less compassion for others, but it does mean treating ourselves more kindly as well. It means accepting our own human limitations, and treating our own professional errors and failures (we all have them!) as opportunities for self-improvement and growth rather than as evidence of inadequacy or worthlessness. And it means realizing that taking proper care of ourselves is important – in part – because it enables us to care better for our patients.
Our UHA data show that self-compassion in one year’s survey has a significant protective effect against burnout in the subsequent year, while also increasing the odds for professional fulfillment. This is an individual trait but is highly influenced by the cultural environment. Similarly, every Stanford/UHA medical staff wellness survey has demonstrated an association between self-compassion and wellness indicators, including lower burnout.
This holiday season, my wish for all of us at Stanford/UHA is that we resolve to build a stronger culture of compassion – for patients, for colleagues and for ourselves – and for each of us to look inward to contemplate whether, by being maybe just a little less hard on ourselves, we can actually be happier and more professionally fulfilled while also doing better for our patients and our colleagues.
Bryan Bohman, MD
Chief Medical Officer and Associate Dean, UHA
Senior Advisor, WellMD Center