What is the responsibility in our work as medical professionals?

by Lieke Campbell, Dentistry Student, Ghent, Belgium.

There is a saying that goes something like: ‘you can only truly care for another when you care for yourself’. This makes sense because when we do not make sure our body is well cared for we might get tired, exhausted or even ill to the point we cannot care for another anymore. I have also found that becoming very emotional, e.g. angry or frustrated, and taking on too much from or for others, are also signs that we are not truly well and not taking care of ourselves first. Taking care of ourselves is a key part of the responsibility of being a health care professional.

If this is true, and if this is the way our bodies naturally work, why is this level of responsibility not lived in everyday life?

In my experience, there are three things to look at:

  • The system
  • Ourselves and our choices on a daily basis
  • The word responsibility and our relationship with it.

The system

The pressure of the health care system is huge. There are currently a lot of financial cut backs occurring and many health care facilities like hospitals and nursing homes are cutting their number of employees back to a minimal level. This means people are having to work very hard to get their job done and ensure all people are cared for. This puts a huge stress onto the employees and consequently the care they can offer is lessened as there is less time and more pressure placed on them to get the work done.

This raises the question: Is it just about getting the job done, or is it also about offering a quality that makes the employee and the patient feel met, seen and cared for?

The choices we make on a daily basis

Do we choose to deeply care for ourselves such that we are truly ready to care for the sick and ill people we are working with? I am studying dentistry and am realising that this, like many other health care related jobs, is a very physically demanding job. It is becoming clear to me that I have to make sure I look after my body well and ensure that it is ready for the work I have to do. The way I am learning to do this involves a dedication towards preparing myself each day with gentle exercising, healthy food, going to bed early and waking early, going for regular walks, deepening my relationships with my family and colleagues and so on.

Another aspect of our daily choices that has an impact on the level of care we deliver is based on another saying: ‘walk your talk’. In other words: do we live the advice we give to our patients? For instance: I notice that as dentists we recommend that people should take care of their teeth, and hence eat and live in a way that supports the health of their teeth and be responsible with that. It therefore makes sense to also live these things ourselves; otherwise the advice we give will come empty of lived experience and authority. We recommend no sugar, no smoking, brushing our teeth twice a day and flossing just as an example. But, do we live these things ourselves? This is a key and foundational aspect of responsibility that I feel is needed to be taken to truly take care for the people around us.

Responsibility and our relationship with it.

This brings me to the point of our relationship with responsibility.  Taking care of ourselves like that is often seen as boring and hard in our society – you are being ‘too responsible’ if you do all this, but is this true? Why do we see being responsible as boring and as something to not be consistent at?

I found that living responsibly in my day to day choices is incredibly satisfying. To live responsibly for me means to know that everything I do is felt by everyone else, therefore the way I move matters, the way I think about myself matters, the way and what I eat matters even if nobody can see me, I know it is all felt as soon as I meet someone. I am a student of this and am in no way perfect, but to live this level of responsibility brings a simplicity to my life and a feeling of coming home. Knowing that our choices and actions do influence all others is a huge support to keep making these choices for myself, but also for all others I meet.

Therefore, to take responsibility is no longer seen as a heavy task; it gives by its spherical nature back to all involved, that is the people you care for, work with and eventually also yourself – as you are the person living in a body well cared for.

So our first responsibility as healthcare professionals is to take care of ourselves, to make choices every day that we know and feel are supportive and healthy, so that we can be truly supportive to those we care for and inspire them to take care of themselves also.

 

Read more:

  1. Wellbeing at work – Is it someone else’s job? 
  2. Taking responsibility at work to a whole new level. 

 

 

 

 

611 thoughts on “What is the responsibility in our work as medical professionals?

  1. When I look back 13 or so years ago I would say I was living irresponsibly although to the outside world I was very responsible, I was a single mother raising a child on my own, I worked full time. I was ticking all the boxes that society expected of me. But then I discover there’s more to life than ticking boxes to get by until you die, that seemed a very boring and monotonous way to be.
    So reading how you live Lieke that there is another model of life that is so very fulfilling that being responsible is as natural as breathing and not the burden we all may think it is. This is refreshing because now humanity has a real choice.

  2. Lieke you’ve highlighted some interesting statements for us to consider, not only for our health care systems, which I also work in, but any industries people work in.

    We are in the 21st Century, and modern technology is constantly changing, faster this or faster that, yet people are no faster and the toll is often on them. However, you have some gold suggestions that if we take care of ourselves and take responsibility, the quality of our care or service will be reflected in not only what we do/be, but how we do/be. And this is a reflection for others to do/be.

    This integrity is very important in our present, and future industries and it starts somewhere and at sometime. Why not you and why not now?

  3. Does this get taught to healthcare professionals now ‘So our first responsibility as healthcare professionals is to take care of ourselves, to make choices every day that we know and feel are supportive and healthy, so that we can be truly supportive to those we care for and inspire them to take care of themselves also.’ The self-care aspect, saying that this should not just be for healthcare professionals but for all!

    1. Vicky to my understanding, this is not taught in our healthcare professionals. And if it is, it is taught probably in the usual format, exercise, diet and sleep. When all of this is essential but often not the answer. It is in the quality we do all of these in that impacts our workforce. And totally I agree, self-care is for all…

  4. I agree – choosing responsibility places me in a position where I become aware of the power on the other side of the same coin, and be humble at the same time that I am prone to make mistakes therefore willing to be corrected and accept deeper level of responsibility/power.

  5. Thank you Lieke, it’s a very supportive blog about what care and responsibility mean in the world, and how this begins with ourselves. I know for me there are new levels of caring for my body waiting for me to take action on, and I appreciated your words about how what we do in private does matter because it has an effect on us, and is what we then take to people.

    1. Melinda I feel this is what we want to ignore that how we are and what we do has an effect on us and therefore all others as we do not live in the separation we like to think we do. We are all interconnected and we feel everything all of the time. So it makes sense if we want to change the world and most of us say we do then we have to live in a responsible way that is then reflected and felt by all others.

  6. “the way I think about myself matters” Recently I had a friend staying with me and she remarked at how hard on myself I am. I had thought that this way of being with myself was a thing of the past but the truth is I am still judging myself at times and bringing myself down – not that I am expecting to be perfect. If how I am with me is how I am with others and even just a negative thought can impact those around me it is worth becoming more aware in this regard and stepping up the love and goodwill towards myself and then I shall be doing that for everyone.

  7. The cut backs that we have in many of the health care systems today is a huge part of what is happening in lots of countries, and as the services get tightened even more, it is amazing to see all the people who work within healthcare who continue to give their all and provide the best possible service that they can, given the services and the resources available to them.

  8. This really should be in the manual for all health care professionals there is nothing much more important to learn then if you don’t look after yourself you can not look properly after another.
    Our health care industry needs to learn this for if not someone starts off healthy and in good health only to burn out soon after starting. Where is the common sense in that?

  9. Unfortunately I have seen this happening more and more in increasingly strained health care services, that things are becoming more rationed or reduced down to cope with the demand e.g. people being only able to get a phone appointment with their GP and not a face to face appointment etc. In the increasing health care crisis whatever care was there is being squeezed out even more.

  10. True inspiration happens through living and moving what you feel is true. Words are then even not needed, as we recognise movements way before we respond to words.

  11. “Another aspect of our daily choices that has an impact on the level of care we deliver is based on another saying: ‘walk your talk’. In other words: do we live the advice we give to our patients?”. If the answer is no to this question then we have a responsibility to know why we don’t. It may be that we don’t agree with the advice that we give to others and if that is the case then we have to be honest about that within ourselves and go deeper in order to bring a greater truth for all.

  12. I love what you have explained here Lieke, how we are responsible for what we put out by the way we live and how everything we do or not do gives a reflection to all those around us, the way we are with ourselves, the way we move, eat, sleep, talk, etc. And I agree ‘Therefore, to take responsibility is no longer seen as a heavy task; it gives by its spherical nature back to all involved, that is the people you care for, work with and eventually also yourself – as you are the person living in a body well cared for.’

    1. It is a very selfish choice to do so. No one around you plays any role, but your own little world you cycle around. We are here to inspire each other and everyone contributes something that no one else could otherwise. True brotherhood honours that and is the only way out of the mess we are in as humanity in todays world.

  13. ‘you can only truly care for another when you care for yourself’.… Yes indeed there is a saying that states this… And this should be the motto on every portal of every educational institution that trains people in looking after another human in any modality.

  14. It is beautiful to feel that when we commit and deeply care for ourselves, we are committing to living in honour of the truth. Our cared for bodies and being then can bring an honouring quality to all that we do, one that we all deserve to feel. More and more I love responsibility as when it is embraced, the enrichment it brings to all aspects of life is deeply fulfilling.

  15. “To live responsibly for me means to know that everything I do is felt by everyone else, therefore the way I move matters, the way I think about myself matters, the way and what I eat matters even if nobody can see me” – this is very beautiful and says so much about where our sense of self-worth comes from.

  16. I am currently reading a book about a first person account of the medical profession. 90+ hour weeks and an uncaring system yet they are supposed to care. There is no care when someone is burnt out and trying to stay awake under massive pressures (such as life or death choices). Bringing in the responsibility to care for ourselves over and above the demands the job places on us is hugely supportive not just of ourselves but everyone around us.

  17. Being responsibility has no bells and whistle hence why there is a boring factor attached to it. There is the opportunity to build a solid foundation that over times holds in full when life can be taxing and send you some curve balls. The difference between a slight wobble and choosing to give up!

  18. When we care for ourselves people automatically see this and this inspires others to care for themselves too…..so imagine if all doctors, physicians and medical practitioners did this, not only would this be felt by their patients, but the medical profession would be able to offer support in a more practical way based on their own livingness.

  19. I totally agree, that to give anyone advice we absolutely need to walk our talk otherwise “the advice we give will come empty of lived experience and authority”. And this just does not apply to medical professionals but all those caring for others, in fact it applies to anyone who is sharing what they feel to be wise advice, otherwise the advice is simply empty words with no lived foundation to inspire another.

  20. ‘Another aspect of our daily choices that has an impact on the level of care we deliver is based on another saying: ‘walk your talk’. In other words: do we live the advice we give to our patients?’ In a discussion recently I raised the view that we have an expectation in health and social care that resources spent in preventative measure will have an effect if planned well but what if those delivering such measures are not living in the way they are promoting – who will take notice?

  21. Interesting to note our relationship with responsibility generally, as a society, and clock that it’s something most people probably consider as boring and a bit of a drag.. it’s certainly not something we’re taught to aspire to actually enjoy, as we’re growing up. How beautiful then to discover that true responsibility is nothing to do with burdens but everything to do with loving and caring deeply for one’s self so that there’s less ‘stuff’ in the way of letting out that inner shine and expressing who we truly and naturally are out into the world.

  22. I once visited a dentist and the smell of tobacco smoke on his hands was as though he put a cigarette in my mouth – once was enough, I found a different dentist.

  23. Most health professionals I see are taking responsibility for things they shouldn’t be (i.e. taking on full responsibility for patient healing and outcomes) and not taking responsibility for things they should be (i.e. their own self-care and wellbeing at work and at home).

  24. Many medical professionals do not take their own advice and are unhealthy and we champion these people to lead the way in dealing with health – does not fully make sense.

  25. Looking after ourselves is key to being able to offer others medical help, I have often seen dental practitioners and nurses compromised by back issues which could be avoided if self-care had been a priority, looking after ourselves in order to look after others is self responsibility.

  26. It is so true Lieke how can we truly guide, support and inspire another to take responsibility for their health and well-being if we ourselves do not live it. Seems like common sense to me, however this does not seem to be common practice. For when we take responsibility for how we live we then share a lived wisdom that is very relatable, as we know precisely what it takes, the challenges that can arise and truly offer guidance and support that comes from first-hand experience not just a text book or knowledge-based information.

  27. You’ve covered this beautifully Lieke, and we can apply what you share from your dentistry perspective to all other professions and situation, because fundamentally our choices on a daily basis and our responsibility and relationship with them are what make our quality of life.

  28. There’s a also a saying that goes something like that: “the shoe maker is always barefooted”. It goes to demonstrate just how poor the perceptions of our society are, that at any job we put the needs of others before ours. But, and especially in the medical profession, how can we truly care for people when we ourselves are exhausted, depleted and unwell…?

  29. To work alongside people who take real care of themselves is very inspiring. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes because it flags up where I cut corners in my own self-care.

  30. ‘Is it just about getting the job done, or is it also about offering a quality that makes the employee and the patient feel met, seen and cared for?’ If we were to ask the patients or clients or customers what they would prefer we would most likely get an answer for more care and quality time with nurses and doctors, dentists or other health care professionals. When someone says they just want the doctor to get on with the job it is usually because they want everything to be over as soon as possible, not to feel anything and just get back to denying themselves and pretending they don’t care- even about themselves.

  31. Attending appointments with a health care professional who is heading for ‘burn out’ due to not taking care of themselves is a vastly different experience from meeting with a practitioner who lives true self care – the quality of their reflection is one that heals in itself.
    “Taking care of ourselves is a key part of the responsibility of being a health care professional”.

    1. It is true and I think it is not only the health care professionals, it is the whole world that is out of balance. People getting more and more ill and this is also exhausting an already exhausted health care system. We need to change something fundamentally to how we all are living and taking care for ourselves is a great start.

  32. It is such a simple concept but so very true : we cannot care for another if we do not care for ourselves first. If this was fully understood and embraced the changes it would bring would go far beyond the medical and health care professions into our roles as parents, teachers, partners, etc etc.

  33. I used to make what I had to do as a health care professional so complicated. I love the reminder and inspiration this article is that so much healing can happen just in the reflection we offer when we take loving care of ourselves.

  34. Over the years the way that we use food has changed. When I was growing up we ate three meals a day and that was it, now we seem to be constantly eating from morning to night. Could it be that we have more tension in our bodies than ever before which we are desperately trying to suppress with food.

  35. Lieke one of the things that I love about what you have shared here is how you can feel that we can’t separate any part of our life from another. Everything matters and everything influences everything else. So self-care is something that supports everything in our life not just that of work and the opposite must also be the case that if we are limiting the way we self-care then what are we limiting in our own life? Super simple.

  36. Do we live the advice we give out? This is a very good question and something I recently pondered on working with young people and talking about relationships and the relationship they have with themselves begged me to ask the question what needs changing with the relationship I have with myself and reading your blog this really stood out for me ‘The word responsibility and our relationship with it.’ Asking what is my relationship with responsibility as it would seem currently I am skirting the edges with this!

  37. There is always a greater depth to learn about responsibility.. today’s lesson is that being responsible doesn’t mean being nice and making everyone feel good about themselves, appealing and appeasing, but being real and honest: which is far more loving, far more evolving for everyone, than the nice and polite.

      1. Yes.. even though we might feel raw and uncomfortable during that uncovering, as false ways of living and being are exposed, there is also a level of honesty which feels refreshing, clear and vital. It’s like some old heavy cobwebs have been swept away, and it’s only uncomfortable because we chose to lodge ourselves in those old webs and patterns.

  38. “…becoming very emotional, e.g. angry or frustrated, and taking on too much from or for others, are also signs that we are not truly well and not taking care of ourselves first.” I have found this too. I find that I get easily frustrated or irritated with others when I have not taken care to live in a way that supports me. When I turn this around and implement more self-care into my life, like magic I am then totally different with others and do not get irritated. So the irritation and frustration is actually with myself. A huge lesson here.

  39. There definitely seems to be part of us as human beings that believes that being responsible in terms of considering how our actions and even our own lifestyles may affect others, is boring. It seems a lot of the time we prefer the ‘I can do whatever I like whenever I like’ approach, not realising or remembering that this is not our natural way of being and in the end this approach comes back to haunt us, for societies and communities degrade and break down the more this occurs, which in the end affects us all one way or another.

  40. Imagine taking a multiple choice test but only answering the first two questions. How could we expect to pass? And so in life we do the same thing, for we tick certain boxes that we like – but totally overlook and miss the caring and the love we are here to bring, and after all as you show Lieke, that is the main thing.

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