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Monday Apr 08, 2019

Helping Others Just Might Help You, Too

As physicians, we often find ourselves making sacrifices as part of our work. I was reminded of this unfortunate fact while watching a recent post by Zubin Damania, M.D. (ZDoggMD)(zdoggmd.com) in which he said that calling the condition many physicians are suffering from "burnout" amounts to victim shaming. Instead, he said, we should call it what it truly is: moral injury.

[celebrating hospital hill run]

Here I am (lower left) with other AAFP members after the 2017 Hospital Hill Run in Kansas City, Mo. The event, which coincided with the Academy's summer commission meetings, has raised more than $800,000 for numerous charities in the past five years.

Moral injury, he explained, occurs when we go against all that we hold morally dear to help spin the wheels of a national health system that many perceive as ignoring the plight of the patient and the clinician. This process slowly drains our tank to the point that we feel like an empty shell going through the motions. It slowly erodes our colleagues' ability to function in the workplace, and many of us are trying to find a way to fix the problem without personally succumbing to it.

I find that occasionally stepping away from my daily schedule to volunteer in another area (sometimes geographically and sometimes outside health care) allows me the opportunity to flex different mental, physical and psychological muscles. It refills my moral tank.

The factors that play into our current dilemma of finding ourselves in a health care Game of Thrones -- when we really, truly went into this profession to help others -- can sometimes be addressed in a selfless act that does not require calculated units of time spent or patients seen in order to be rewarded for one's efforts. There isn't usually a penalty for not meeting a specified threshold when volunteering.

AAFP Well-being Resources

The AAFP has resources related to physician well-being -- including a free risk assessment for members, a well-being planner and more -- in its Physician Health First web portal.

The Academy also will be holding its Family Physician Health and Well-being Conference June 5-8 in Phoenix. The event is approved for up to 18 AAFP Prescribed credits. Attendees who register before May 7 save $100.

When you volunteer, you likely have an allowance for some autonomy as you figure out the best workflow to achieve the desired goal. When you volunteer, most other people are aware that you could be somewhere else, doing something else with your time and effort. Hence, you are more often than not visibly appreciated for the sacrifice to help someone else through their difficulties or obstacles.

I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to volunteer doing community service with some amazing organizations, including the American Red Cross and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I've also participated in walks and fundraisers to support causes related to autism, breast cancer and prematurity, to name a few.

(For family physicians attending the AAFP's National Conference of Constituency Leaders this month in Kansas City, Mo., note that there is an opportunity to participate in an April 24 community service project with your peers that benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City.)

Sometimes during these respites, new solutions emerge that help me navigate around old problems in my usual world. I usually return feeling reinvigorated and inspired, and my moral tank is full.

Then I'm ready to try again to take care of my patients, my colleagues and myself. And to try again to take on the challenge of creating a better system within which we can all work.

April is National Volunteer Month, an opportune time to look for new ways to enlist in a cause you support. The good deeds you do won't just help others. They might help you, too.

Tochi Iroku-Malize, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 02:14PM Apr 08, 2019 by Tochi Iroku-Malize, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.

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