Newsletter #3

  Your Weekly Dose of Positive Medicine 

Be kind; for everyone is fighting a great battle

 One of my best friends from high school was battling leukemia. I remember days hanging out in my room, listening to music (we were both huge REO Speedwagon fans), shooting Nerf hoops and talking about life (mainly girls at that time). We were not sure of what life would bring, but we knew we were destined for big things.

Denny was always more confident than I was at the time and I would listen to his advice closely. He seemed to have most things figured out. I was struggling with my own identity, caught between my Indian and American friends. I would often put up a façade to people in order to hide my deep insecurity. Insecurity about my name, my skin color, my parent’s accents, etc. It was a tough time but in retrospect a much-needed experience. My time with my Indian friends gave me confidence that shaped me into the person I am today. Denny would often ask me about these “other” friends and why I felt the need to keep them separate. While he was often teasing, I knew that he genuinely wanted to meet them. With Denny, my insecurities fell away. He knew me for all of my faults and still wanted to be friends.

I remember a game that we used to play while shooting hoops in my room. If I made this shot, then so and so would like me. If he made his shot, then the girl he wanted to ask to prom would say yes. We were in search of “sure” answers to a never-ending list of questions and concerns. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were sharing something very valuable yet so rare in our society (especially as we grow up): vulnerability. Our questions were not filtered and carefully worded to hide our inner struggles; they were, in fact, our deepest fears, and we shared them boldly with each other.

I still struggle with many things. How do we raise good kids who care about the world and not just their next video game? How do we find the balance between pushing our children to their full potential and letting them enjoy their childhood? How do we create a close-knit family in the midst of competing activities and distractions?

For a few things, I suffer a lot. Am I on the path toward a meaningful life? What will I be remembered for when I am gone? Will I reach my full potential? Is anyone else asking themselves these questions?

I am still searching for answers, but I will no longer suffer in silence. I am tired of pretending to know all of the answers. I am tired of hiding my struggles. I used to think that admitting weaknesses made you weak. How could I possibly influence and lead others if they knew about my shortfalls? What kind of father would I be if I wasn’t a strong enforcer of the rules? If people realized that I suffered from self-doubt, would they have the confidence to follow me? So I learned to put on a façade: assertive (aggressive) in my approach, critical of others with different points of view, and wanting to be right more than effective.

Several years ago, I came across a quote: “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.” As I began to look around, I realized that this is true. Everyone is, indeed, suffering in their own way. This suffering can come in many forms. It may be a life filled with distractions (TV, alcohol, gossip) that helps hide the pain of unrealized potential. It could be an excessive focus on our child’s popularity, athletic performance, or academic achievement that helps to hide our own feelings of insecurity.

It could be a real battle for your health that makes you realize what truly matters in life. Whatever the cause of the pain, we all suffer in some way. We are uncomfortable in the present but anxious for the future. We try to stabilize an ever-changing external environment while our internal world never finds peace. The problem of suffering is exacerbated by our unwillingness to discuss or even acknowledge it.

I am grateful to have had a friend like Denny growing up and am even more thankful that we were able to reconnect before he lost his battle with cancer. We have all been blessed to have these types of friends. Someone who we shared our deepest secrets, our big dreams, and many laughs while developing into the people we are today. These people touched our core and made life a little less lonely.

Now more than ever, we need to reach out to these friends and remember the power of real connection. The power of showing who we really are. The power of admitting we are afraid. The power of vulnerability.

Now on to this week’s ideas…but first a brief note – given the feedback from our readers, please see our new physician spotlight section at the end of this newsletter. This allows us to highlight the work of physicians and medical students making a difference in the world. 

 1. Choosing To Be Vulnerable With My Patients

“Doctors don’t often want to let their guard down. What happens when they do?”

 Exposing our vulnerabilities is a risk we have to take if we want to experience real connection in our lives. In this New York Times post, Helen Ouyang, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University describes her experience believing in a patient that no one else trusted.   

 2. The Power of Vulnerability 

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage and creativity. It is the source of hope, accountability, empathy and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path” 

Research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work and author of multiple New York Times #1 bestsellers, Brene Brown’s TEDx talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks of all time.  

3. Make This Crisis Your “Finest Hour” 

“My biggest personal challenge is focusing my energy on the things I can control and have responsibility for, rather than dwelling on aspects of this pandemic that are not under my direct control…When I get frustrated by decisions with which I disagree…I try to remind myself of the following: everyone is doing the best they can. Including me.” 

Leadership expert John Baldoni describes an interview with Sanjay Saint, Professor of Medicine at the University of Michigan. In this Forbes article, they discuss the opportunity before physician leaders and provide 3 simple questions to ask ourselves in order to help make this crisis our finest hour. 


Physicians Helping Physicians Spotlight

Michelle Mudge-Riley, DO, MHA, RDN
Founder and CEO, Physicians Helping Physicians

1. Can you tell us a little about your career path and what led you to your current role running Physicians helping physicians?

How long do you have?  :).  Just kidding – it’s just been a long journey.  18 years ago I would have told you I’d be a seasoned pathologist in clinical practice…it’s interesting how life can go in unexpected directions.  Instead, I ended up working at a medical device company, followed by hospital administration and then at a brokerage firm as Director of Employee Wellness. I started telling my story before Facebook or these other forms of social media existed and began speaking at conferences because people were intrigued by a physician doing something other than clinical medicine.  Other physicians started reaching out to me to ask how I left clinical practice because they wanted to do the same thing but weren’t sure how.  One thing led to another and suddenly I’m running a company, helping other doctors who want a non-clinical career.

2. Given the state of mental health in medicine, how can physicians (trained as lone wolves in a culture that often pits us against each other) form a cohesive community that can help to support each other?

That has been one of the most interesting things about what I’ve seen over the past 15 years.  As physicians, sometimes we can really be mean to each other!  That hasn’t helped us as a profession.  Although burnout, moral injury and stress for physicians in clinical practice has increased more and more, I’ve seen something awesome within parts of the physician community.  We are starting to come together and help each other.  I think the support starts and gets stronger when we are nonjudgmental towards each other because it then becomes safe for us to be ourselves and ask for help.  That’s why I built the Physicians Helping Physicians Non-clinical Community. It’s a safe and non-judgemental place to talk about and get help if you are interested in a non-clinical career or side hustle.

3. What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are you most excited about now?

I enjoy the relationships that are built through the community.  We really help each other!  When I see someone I helped get a non-clinical job a couple years ago who is now in a position to hire another physician who wants to work in a non-clinical job, it is the best feeling!  That’s why I’m so excited about the 2020 virtual conference.  It’s virtual so it’s very accessible (and cheaper than other conferences) and a great way for physicians to learn about their options for non-clinical work and meet other physicians who may be able to help them get into their next job.

4. What do you wish you had known as a young physician?

I wish I had known the importance of relationship building with professional colleagues.  We don’t get taught that in medical school and I’m not sure why.  Although we are trained to serve patients and build relationships with them, our mental health and wellbeing often suffers because we don’t have professional colleagues to ask questions and advice from, or just commiserate with.  That was the value of the “Doctor’s Lounge” that we lost when it was taken away.  But we can still build those relationships we just need to be purposeful about it.  Physicians Helping Physicians gives physicians a safe place to build those relationships. 

Registration now open for the 2020 Virtual Conference: