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. 





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

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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…?

  6. ‘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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Unless we truly care for ourselves so that our expression comes from a lived experience and authority, that is powerful and inspiring to feel, people otherwise feel the lack of sincerity in our words as they are expressed empty of a lived truth.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. “…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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. It makes sense that we need to care for ourselves first before we provide care to others, because focusing on others can have us discarding ourselves which runs us down then we can’t care for them because we haven’t cared for ourselves. So simple yet we need to chip away at that belief that we have to solely focus on the other before and above ourselves.

  19. “It therefore makes sense to also live these things ourselves; otherwise the advice we give will come empty of lived experience and authority.” – When I read these words it reminded me and explained so much how in school many times the students (including myself) would listen to the teachers asking us to do something, but we could all feel that the teacher never lived this way themselves, and therefore there was almost a rebellion against following the teachers demands, as if to say ” Who do you think you are asking us to do that when you don’t do it for yourself?”

    1. I am reminded of an overweight Physical Education (PE) teacher at school when I read this and there is a rebellion and from myself a mistrust in others when they say one thing but do another. But then I have to ask myself – Do I do that? and if so where?

  20. I have always thought that taking on others’ stuff was what drained us – full stop, and here you say that is already a sign of not taking care of ourselves – woa. That is so true. And here I am being asked to look at my own relationship with what I considered to be responsibility. Thank you, Lieke.

  21. Thank you Lieke, it’s a surprising thing to realise how great true responsibility feels, as opposed to the false version where we see responsibility as a burden and something to get out of. Being responsible for ourselves is living a very self caring life and building our love for ourselves, and that love and care then naturally flows outward to others.

  22. As a health care professional my responsibility is to love myself to the bone so that I reflect to another that this is possible and that it is what supports true health.

      1. Gorgeous I love this and can feel how you do Elizabeth….and it awakens a deeper love in me…this is what being a health practitioner is all about, this is what brings a healthy humanity.

  23. I have been unwell recently and although I dislike having to rearrange appointments with people, I am bringing a reflection that it is more important to care for ourselves than continue dragging ourselves on in exhaustion.

  24. “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, …” – If we were taught in school just how much our every move ripples out and either heals or harms everyone and everything around us, this would empower our children to take responsibility for all their actions in a joyful way, knowing how much they impact the whole.

  25. When what we say comes from our own lived experience, it comes with much more depth and authority and is more likely to truly inspire than when it is not.

  26. We have a responsibility in any job that we do, and indeed in any activity outside of work. What we do has an effect on everyone else. Once we understand this our life can never be the same.

  27. The spherical nature of our lives as you have illustrated here demonstrates the gift of living life with responsibility. If that is boring then count me in with a capital B! We cannot offer another what we have no awareness of and therefore to tell people to look after themselves when it is not something you do yourself just feels empty and does not give the person listening an inspiration to know it is worth the initial effort. We are so familiar with that way of working and listening that when you meet someone who speaks what they live it actually stands our like a sore thumb – you cannot help but notice.

  28. I’m trying to think of a job where it doesn’t matter if you are connected to yourself or not… At the moment I can’t think of one occupation where if we are disconnected, the ripple effect goes out onto many people.

  29. By taking responsibility of our self care and wellbeing, is actually what feeds back into the health care system. Ultimately, if more health care workers initiated self care, the system in which we work with would also have to undergo an upgrade in the way it supports everybody as its people who make up a system.

  30. The health systems across the world are definitely in crisis mode at the moment. There is overwhelming demand placed on them from the tidal wave of illness and disease that is largely caused by a lack of self care in the general population, and you also have the health care professionals trying to deal with this tidal wave with limited resources, but from a place where they are not taking care of themselves to the level that they could which is definitely reducing their ability to cope with the demand and the stresses encountered. So self care has the potential to support everyone in the health system.

  31. I am a health practitioner, talking about wellbeing…how important is it that I consider and care for my own wellbeing….it is vital, otherwise I do the talk but it has no walk….

    1. I think we underestimate, arrogantly so, the ability for another to clock what is being reflected though the body and the words being expressed. It is far more inspiring when the words being expressed match the body it is expressing from, as such the lived wisdom shared is felt as the truth that it is. True reflection equates to true inspiration.

  32. Working with our emotional reactions to situations is such a foundational element to sustainable wellbeing, in the sense it upsets the bodies’ own natural harmony and order.

    1. I agree, we take our emotions as who we are without questioning why we have them / choose them, and they create illness in our bodies.

  33. There is nothing more inspiring that working with people who walk their talk… the power of example and role modelling is humungous compared to words, however wise or ‘right’ they may be.

  34. I know I have a tendency to cut corners at work just to get the job done. I know I do this with my body too. I do just enough to enable me to be healthy but stay on the ‘it will do’ level without really taking the time and the care to do a really good job. Our responsibility is to take care of ourselves and extend this to whatever we are doing and not settle for ‘it will do’.

    1. And I can have a tendency to be pedantic and a little intense in making sure the detail is there – when that also isn’t always the way – as our body knows exactly what is needed and when and has a natural flow if we choose to allow it.

    1. Absolutely. We have got this idea that it does not matter in what state we are in when we do things but it does matter a lot. Just the difference between a nurse who is tender and loving because she is her natural self and feels good in herself or a nurse who has run herself down which results in her now being rushed and harsh ie. not her true self.

  35. This is of course the breakthrough that everyone is looking for… That responsibility is spherical and not linear… And when this is understood unilaterally, everyone will have the opportunity to energetically evolve.

  36. At the simplest level medical professionals need to have their body reflect true health to their patients. Unfortunately few are currently able to come close to doing this. The irresponsible choices of the human race are also the case for medical professionals, understandably, but this does not advance us.

  37. Perhaps one of the issues is that junior clinicians are exploited through very long hours, which is a form of abuse. As a doctor, one may have to break through a number of consciousnesses before one can seriously engage in serious self-care – the fact that the administration abuses you, the samaritan consciousness of selfless sacrifice and that you are in constant contact with people with ailments that are often the result of abuse or self-abuse. To be different in such an environment is the only way to be, though.

    1. I would agree that being a part of a system that abuses its staff without even realising that it does so, is not the greatest start towards learning to take great care for yourself so that you can care for others. The whole set up is wrong and needs dismantling and rebuilding upon a foundation of love.

    2. Good point regarding the unrealistic and abusive expectations and work practices that junior doctors are placed under at the start of their careers. To say no to the work hours or to speak up is often unwise and has consequences on the rest of your placement or even career.

  38. “What is the responsibility in our work as medical professionals?” – the simple answer is to just be ourselves, to take loving care of ourselves so that we can care for others.

      1. The world so needs to see and feel this, every breath we take, every step we make, we can show what it is to be love.

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