I travel once again to Charleston this week. I love the city for its architecture, its history, its food, and its relationship to the water. But this week, I’m going to speak to a group of dedicated people who are doing wonderful, important work. The meeting where I am speaking is the Southeastern Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (SAAHP), a gathering of college and university faculty members who develop and deliver programs to assist young, idealistic students who want to enter the health professions. Sadly, a high percentage of those who become doctors will face burnout, and a smaller but significant percentage will become suicidal. So, I’m going to offer my prescription for avoiding burnout, and ask them to consider incorporating it into their programs. What will I tell them? Well, I don’t want to give it all away, yet, but basically, I will tell them that it is a four-part prescription: taking care of your body (good food, exercise, sleep), taking care of your spirit (reflection, mindfulness, spirituality, socialization), learning about healing and focusing on why you became a healer, and the secret ingredient.
And the secret ingredient is art. Art moves us as it explores what it means to be human. All art tells a story, and stories help us make meaning out of events. Stories stimulate our brains to make empathic connections between ourselves and people very different from us, and stimulate us to be more altruistic, to do more good in the world.
All four parts of the prescription involve habit formation, and beginning early is important. I hope my presentation will persuade some members of SAAHP that their programs, already vital and wonderful, could perhaps incorporate some of these elements in order to help students navigate the difficult journey to becoming a doctor.