What happens when doctors get involved in trying to change the world?

Sep 5, 2023

Why did you go into medicine? I’ll bet at your medical school interview you said it was to help people. There are so many complex reasons for choosing this career. For some it really is to help people, to make life better for others or to advocate for those who don’t have a voice. For others it’s the security of the job, the variety, the challenge. There’s no value judgement here on any of those.


It’s worth reflecting on because it might give you some answers as to where you are now. If our primary motivation is to make a difference, we can burnout and lose joy when we end up not being able to deliver the care we originally wanted to. If you chose medicine initially for the challenge or security, there is no doubt that it still offers both of those in spades but there are lots of challenges working in the health service currently that might affect your job satisfaction.


For those who are sensitive to injustice it can be particularly hard when the system doesn’t seem to move fast enough. There’s a lot in the world that needs changing right so whether your focus is on climate change health, inequalities, LGBT health, institutional racism – all these things need someone who is passionate to champion the cause but that’s not to say that it isn’t hard.


Why are medics ideally suited to change-making?

You have so many transferrable skills!

  • You’re smart, used to taking in huge volumes of information and critically analysing it.
  • You’re driven – used to working hard, multi-tasking and making things happen.
  • You’re used to working with and communicating with people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • You work in a trusted profession which makes your message more likely to be heard and accepted.
  • You care!


Why do medics burnout in changemaking?

  • You’ve been taught and conditioned to ignore your basic needs and to sacrifice your energy for others in a system that expects 100% from you.
  • You’ve been working for approval your whole career – exam grades, 360 reports, patient feedback. Change-making in the wider world may be intangible, you may not have immediate feedback on your influence and sometimes people really don’t want to hear what you have to say. That’s hard.
  • You’re a perfectionist. If you don’t do your job to a certain standard, someone could die and so you may be very hard on yourself, comparing yourself to others frequently because that’s what the system has expected of you.
  • You take responsibility for See above, a one-way ticket to resentment-ville.
  • Your ability to consume information can be a double-edged sword, resulting in overwhelm and paralysis when you cannot un-know what you know.


The thing is, if you’re already burnt out from working in the healthcare system, it can be easy to start working on a cause such as climate change thinking it will be a solution to your burnout as it’s something you’re passionate about and brings variety. However, if you pour yourself into this with the same habits you’ve been conditioned into throughout medical training, the likelihood is at some point you will burn out here too.


What can you do about it?

First of all, you’re not alone, our societal and medical paradigm have created the perfect storm for you to end up in this place. But there are things you can do.


Awareness is key. Which of these characteristics serve you and which don’t? Can you notice when they show up and start to change your habits? Any change of habit takes time. Start small and make it easy for yourself e.g. if you keep checking email at home and you want to put in some boundaries to sotp that, why not add a filter onto your phone that stops the email app working after a certain time of night? Or better still, delete the app on your phone! It will be uncomfortable at first but over time it will become a new habit. If you are stopping something then it’s a good idea to replace it with something such as reading a book or listening to music.


Consider what are you’re passionate about doing. You may be passionate about climate change and health, but there are lots of things you can do within that cause. What types of tasks flow for you, where is your zone of genius?


What brings you joy? If we pursue our passion to the exclusion of all other forms of joy we may lose perspective and balance which will suck the joy out of your changemaking.


What do you need? Make sure you’re looking after your basic needs – physically, mentally and spiritually. You can’t sustain your change-making if you’re not doing well within yourself.


Find your tribe: the people who get it, the people who inspire you and make you want to keep doing this work. Find the people and spaces that allow you to feel truly heard.


Consider working with a coach who will support you through this process and keep you accountable.


As a coach I am experienced in helping change-makers to rediscover their joy, work out what their big difference is to make and help them to design a life that allows them to have balance, contentment, big impact and lead with confidence.


Download my free guide: 5 signs you need to shake up your change-making to avoid burnout at https://bts-coaching.co.uk/freebie


Thank you for all you do.


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