“Physician, Heal Thyself”: Using Life Stories to Promote Physician Spiritual Well-Being
John Yoon, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, and Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center
In the social psychology literature, researchers have found that life stories often contain basic narrative sequences that can be analyzed and correlated with measures of well-being. For example, people who tend to narrate life stories using redemption sequences tend to tell stories in which initially-bad situations are seen to produce a positive outcome. Interestingly, this research literature suggests that people who narrate their life experiences using redemption sequences tend to be less depressed, less burned out, and more generous toward others. In contrast, people might tend to tell life stories using only what are called contamination sequences. These are narratives in which good situations become spoiled by negative events. Research suggests that people who tend to narrate their life experiences using only contamination sequences tend to be more depressed, more burned out, and less generous to others. In this paper, we will present preliminary results from the Project on the Good Physician in which we collected qualitative data from 21 U.S. medical trainees across multiple medical schools. Our initial findings suggest that medical trainees who recount their experiences using a more redemptive mindset might be demonstrating a sort of inner spiritual strength that has a protective effect with regards to burnout. Moreover, this redemptive mindset may also be related to the growth of particular medical virtues during training like interpersonal generosity with patients and with colleagues. These findings underline the importance of a life course approach when studying physician’s spiritual well-being. Initiatives to reduce burnout should extend beyond the immediate medical school context and invite physicians-in-training to cultivate a redemptive mindset – learning to narrate “negative events” during their training in such a way that they can identify how such events contributed redemptively to their personal growth.