When I look for reasons to smile at work, I find them. Simple things like a hug from a colleague or listening to a patient share their story can brighten our days.
Passion in the Medical Profession | May 15, 2023 | 3 min read
By Joanne Shay, MD, Johns Hopkins Medicine
With the public health emergency declaration for COVID-19 ending, we have an opportunity to think about our lives before COVID-19 and after COVID-119 and formulate what we’d like our future to be. At the top of my list is finding joy and fun each day in the clinic.
At the cusp of the pandemic, life was simpler. I didn’t dread coming to work and taking care of sick patients in the OR. I wasn’t fearful. At the beginning of the pandemic, I feared for my life when I intubated patients with respiratory failure while on overnight call. It was the rare patient that didn’t desaturate to single digits during intubation for respiratory failure. I worried if they would survive. I’d never previously worried about having adequate PPE to protect myself from a deadly virus, much less ensure that I didn’t unwittingly bring a killer into my home post-call. Happiness was hard to find.
But there were bright moments. Like the night I went to the ICU and as I was putting on PPE to enter the biodome, one of the OR nurses hugged me and helped me prepare to enter the unit. I was overwhelmed with joy to see a friendly and familiar face.
We were all in this together. It wasn’t pretty, but despite the horror, there were relationships and shared experiences that endured and created opportunities for joy. I now find joy reflecting upon the time spent moving past the horrible together.
This brings me to the topic of relationships with coworkers. How do we develop close relationships with our colleagues? Sharing a meal together, even a quick lunch, is often a good way to connect. Additionally, we can celebrate individual and team accomplishments with food, especially a dinner together when there’s time.
I also engage with clinicians both within and outside of my anesthesiology group frequently when I ask for their expert opinion, or they ask me for mine. I tell them how meaningful their counsel was and often watch them experience the joy of receiving a compliment.
The next realm of joy in medicine is the relationships with our patients. As an anesthesiologist, I’ve been privileged to care for patients and their families at their greatest time of need, and occasionally multiple episodes within a series of surgeries. These brief and intense interactions require understanding and compassion in situations with few alternatives. Recently I cared for a teenager who I’d taken care of as an infant. His parents had created a story board of pictures that was displayed in his room. His Dad pointed out my picture and I experienced joy and happiness that I had made a difference in this child and family’s life.
I also talk with patients and loved ones before and during their procedures. I find it’s much easier to get my patients through the uncomfortable procedure if I ask about their stories and their hopes and dreams. Getting to know your patient’s narrative gives much insight into their challenges and what they need. When I see my patients’ names on my schedule, I immediately know who they are, and I know what I plan to talk to them about during our procedure time. And it makes me smile. That is a very special joy.
I look for reasons to smile, and I find them. Despite the dark days that we’ve been through, we’re fortunate to have the trust of patients, the support of our colleagues both personally and professionally, and friends, family and pets that care for us. Every day may not be perfect but look for a little happiness and you can find the joy we all deserve.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.