Hope is a full-time Physician Assistant in dermatology and Mom to an 8 and 12-year old. She also works part-time as a burnout coach and freelance writer. She recently published a piece about her experience with career burnout as a PA on KevinMD and has an upcoming piece on Scary Mommy about parenting during COVID. Her other essays can be found on her site, www.hopethepa.com
Energy is Everything
by Hope Cook
I’m the “woo-woo girl” at my office who talks about energy. I’m acutely aware of the energy associated with complaining or dreading the day’s schedule, with how I interact with my coworkers, and with my thoughts about each patient. These three are potent predictors of my workday satisfaction as a dermatology Physician Assistant.
The old Me agreed this energy thing was baloney. I figured I could say or think whatever I pleased in my mind since it only affected me. I’d mentally roll my eyes, sigh, look at my schedule, and begin dreading the day ahead. The voice in my head was the queen of snarky comments and could curse like a sailor.
Yoga teacher training and 300 self-help books later, I began thinking about things differently. I noticed if I didn’t look at my schedule of patients ahead of time, if instead, I went into each room with an open mind, the day went much better. Likewise, if I happened to be in a great mood on a particular day, patients also seemed to be in better spirits, and the day would go more smoothly. If I was in a foul mood about my kids fighting on the way to school, I’d go in with a different energy. On these foul-mood days, patients also seemed testier and less friendly.
It wasn’t until I started working with a new Medical Assistant at my last job I realized how big an impact energy could have on a workplace.
The first thing I noticed when I met Danni was her radiant smile. Her entire face lit up. Her joy and enthusiasm were contagious. Danni would call the patients from the waiting room and ask a few questions before I went into the room. I was surprised to hear patients chatting and laughing with Danni as they walked down the hall, something I’d never noticed with our MAs.
Jess, another one of my Medical Assistants, was perpetually sour-faced with an attitude to match. She dragged her feet when she walked, mumbled when responding, moved slowly when I asked her to do something, and sighed when I requested her help. I avoided interaction with her, noting how my mood dipped when we worked together.
Within days of Danni working with me, I had an ah-ha moment. Patients were nicer. I felt nicer. My coworkers seemed perkier. I started smiling more and feeling more relaxed and happy. As my energy shifted, my mindset also shifted.
In the previous months, my mindset had been “I have to see 35 patients” or “I have to stay late today until finishing my notes.” One day I was reading a Byron Katie book and had another epiphany. The situations themselves weren’t the problem. My way of thinking about the patients or the schedule was the problem. My resistance to the schedule, the patients, or my coworkers was responsible for my suffering. I decided to try a shift in my thinking to, “I choose to see 35 patients. I choose to stay late today”. My mindset flipped from one of reluctance and obligation to joy and purpose.
Around this time, I also heard Gary Zukov speaking to Oprah about “Earth School,” this idea of our souls being sent to Earth to learn specific lessons. Each situation or circumstance we find ourselves in is an assignment from God to teach us something. Gary said we get to choose how we respond. How we handle each situation determines if we move to the next grade. Mesmerized, I watched as Oprah interviewed a Mother who’d lost a child years earlier. Gary gently told the lady she was able to choose how she lived the rest of her life. She could choose to live a life buried under a mountain of grief or live a life of love and purpose.
Learning I had a choice made all the difference. Now, a crazy schedule can’t “make” me have a bad day. A late patient can’t “make” my day awful. Neither can my husband “make” me mad.
My motivation became one of love and learning. I try to walk into each patient room with my inner light shining. I remind myself that patients aren’t just physical bodies with foot fungus or hair loss. They have souls, too. They’re learning life lessons through trials and hardships just like me. Even if their human selves struggle with anger or frustration, I look into their eyes and search for a sliver of light. I smile. I breathe, I relax, and I remember I’m choosing to be there.
Are there still days when I feel overwhelmed and anxious? Am I frustrated when patients are rude or late? Yes, definitely. I continually forget, and God keeps reminding me. Often, when I think my energy is earning an A+ in Earth School, I get a tough pop quiz. My kids bicker, my husband and I have a disagreement, I burn the pizza, or we get in a fender bender. These are all tests. I make some A’s, but many B’s and occasional C’s or D’s. I think of Danni’s smile and energy, which makes me strive harder for an A. I try to remember I’m at mid-term in my life, there’s still time to turn things around before the final grade.