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Mounting losses and unprocessed grief can contribute to emotional exhaustion and ultimately burnout, but connection and compassion can heal us.

Fam Pract Manag. 2023;30(5):25-28

This content conforms to AAFP criteria for CME.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial relationships.

Imagine sitting with a trusted colleague in a comfortable, safe environment and being invited to share your grief stories. We all have such stories — likely many — and they may be personal (the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a self-image, or a dream) or professional (the loss of a patient, a job, a role, or an ideal). For many of us, the idea of holding space to process the grief we have been carrying would not be comfortable or familiar, but it is increasingly necessary.

When we entered the field of medicine, little did we know how prevalent grief would be, or the toll it can take — both professionally and personally. Medical education spends little time normalizing grief as part of practicing medicine. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's family medicine program requirements include demonstrating competence to “address suffering in all its dimensions for patients and patients' families,” but not for physicians or other members of the care team.1

Physicians and trainees may, therefore, be unprepared to process their grief and fear being seen as “weak” or “too emotional” if they openly discuss their experiences. Destigmatizing grief and bearing witness to one another's suffering is important for the sustainability of our work. Doing so can help us validate our experiences, feel less isolated, develop empathy, and move forward without burning out.

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