Now that I have written a book, everyone asks: what is my book about? For 25 years as a Family Physician, I have asked myself, what can I learn from others? What strategies can I apply to sustain wellness in my own life and what can I share with others to promote their well-being? I have come to realize, (despite medical training) that prioritizing my own health is never selfish - it allows me to better care for others and to create a culture of wellness!
A Doctor’s Dozen is stories of real people who struggle with real problems, and who apply real strategies and have taught me about health and life by their challenges and successes. I view all as teachers and in each case you will read of an individual (ten have a connection to health care) and learn about their common health challenge, and observe first hand how they applied health strategies to improve their own health and the well-being of others.
You will benefit from A Doctor’s Dozen if you are dedicated to your own well-being,...
May is Mental Health Month. It is also the month where we formally pay tribute to the mothers who nurtured us, provided safe environments, and modeled the tools needed to cope with daily stresses. I imagine these events being purposefully linked to show the connection between the institute of motherhood and the perpetual cycle of resilience that mothers pass from generation to generation.
Although motherhood often comes without training, the mothers I know, my own mother included, appear to have been born with innate skills, capable of sharing critical strategies while performing unlimited roles.
Mothers’ serve as:
Life Givers - Wrapping their entire being around a single cell, creating the first safe and trusting home from which every human grows.
Guardians- Accepting full responsibility for 18 years of another’s life and choices.
Teachers- Sharing feedback and wisdom to shape a mind, body and spirit.
Inquisitors- Asking questions to drive critical thinking and problem solving.
Across the globe, new scenes of struggles and successes are playing out. Navigating unchartered waters while managing elevated levels of stress means processing the paradoxes of grief and gratitude, duty and danger, isolation and risk, trust and fear. Social distancing equates to limited contact with multiple people but increasing time with a few- often family. Quarantining alone or together can be challenging but this slower pace of life presents opportunities to prioritize core values and enhance wellbeing skills. Being homebound and providing home daycare, home schooling, home work and home making test our flexibility and creativity, particularly for those juggling all simultaneously. New living conditions, such as grown and college children returning home, multigenerational families coming together, house guests spending day, weeks or even months in tight quarters demand that we give attention to ourselves and have increased compassion for others. I am reminded of Maslow’s hiera...
The power of pandemic fear can generate chaos like a hurricane spiraling out of control; this same power can be channeled like a turbine to create positive energy and outcomes. The escalating COVID-19 pandemic is justifiably generating fear in all. Fear stemming from uncertainty is particularly heightened when negative outcomes occur, and no clear solution or end is in sight. Fear breeds more fear and panic cycles can ensue. This innate process of fear also drives behavior change, which can be healthy or not. When fear is harnessed to instill healthy behaviors, new opportunities arise and individual’s and societies flourish.
Harvesting advantages from fear requires understanding its origin and impact. The word “fear” derives from the Old English “fær” meaning calamity or danger. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Fear is much older than the English l...
“Love” is universally valued. It has no boundaries and rings true in all languages. It is a gift, a virtue and a quality that no law can destroy. We cannot purchase it, order it online, tax, or import it. But all across the world love is present. One only has to observe people to see its magic.
The words of George Sands, “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved,” rang true for me in Spanish and English on a recent educational trip to Cuba. I was struck by the absence of material goods contrasted by a profound joy overflowing among the people. Gaps in monetary belongings appeared offset by an excess time and devotion to a culture of love. Music, dance, singing and art displayed day and night by individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities encompassed my Cuban experience. “What the Cuban people lack in “stuff” and freedom, they make up for in love of each other and of life.
Although very little monetary currency is exchanged by the average person in Havana,...
Resilience is associated with overall wellbeing and lower rates of burnout. Predictors of resilience include cognitive flexibility and attention to personal health habits. But despite possessing the knowledge and skills to promote self-care, we, as health professionals often, for complex reasons, deny ourselves the time and permission to prioritize our own wellbeing. In staying with my New Year’s tradition of selecting a “word of the year,” I have chosen permission for 2020.
Permission, defined as the go-ahead, green light or blessing to move forward. This carte blanche resolves one of guilt, doubt or fear that may otherwise accompany a decision not sanctioned or approved. Additionally, permission provides reassurance and clearance to not only advance on a journey or task but to also enjoy the process and the outcome.
In 2020, I Grant Myself Permission to…
• Go for walk …every day!
• Read a novel, paint a picture, listen to Bruce Springsteen
• Make a mistake and learn from it
Acceptance Speech Catherine Florio Pipas, MD, MPH
April 29th, 2019 Society of Teachers in Family Medicine (STFM) Annual Meeting Toronto
Thank you, I am so honored to receive the 2019 STFM Humanism in Medicine Award and so grateful to be a member of the STFM Community.
My journey to Create Cultures of Wellness and to Promote Humanism in Medicine has been extremely rewarding because it….
Challenges me everyday to walk the walk…
Provides me the opportunity to learn from all of you and to share what I have learned across the globe
Allows me to participate in the national URGENT campaign to build a business model for promoting personal wellness and changing our learning and practice environments
Promoting Humanism in Medicine can be viewed as overcoming another ISM (racism, sexism, humanism) Our culture of medicine has facilitated the depersonalization of us as health professionals - but no one is calling it dehumanizing.
We actually call it “superhuman” and we often where this badge o...
Negative emotions have the potential to limit our effectiveness. Frustration, disappointment, and fear can paralyze our performance, while resentment, guilt and anger can stifle relationships. When often learn to ignore, deny and mask these feelings. Sometimes we learn this so well, we lose the capability of experiencing them. When we suppress intense negative emotions over long periods of time, we become emotionally exhausted. Flatness settles over us like a veil, masking all feelings. No joy, no hope, no peace. Feeling negative feelings empowers us to more effectively feel positive emotions. Three strategies that can initiate this process include mindfulness, emotional intelligence and cognitive reframing.
Mindfulness is a willingness to observe – even that which is uncomfortable. “How do I feel right now?” is a simple start to the process. Am I Exhausted? Agitated? Furious? Apathetic? Mindfulness demands that we answer honestly- without judgement- no matter what the answer....
Time, that complex entity can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, a concept and even a tool. Over time… the term time is used as a means to slow us down, speed us up, inspire us and cure us, it serves to reward us, shame us and even terminate our existence.
Time is so much more than the movement of hands around the face of a clock. It is a measure of life’s accomplishments, our existence and a “word” with so many meanings:
Something we need more of – “never enough time”
An excuse for what we can’t or won’t do – “sorry, no time”
Pristine is not a typical word I would choose to describe my traditional holidays.
Pristine – natural, unspoiled, untouched.
Pristine – the antithesis of consumerism, materialism and man-made “stuff”.
This phenomenon of pure nature, devoid of human touch, surrounded me this Christmas on Anegada, an island lined by 16+ miles of pure white sand. An island littered in conch shells, sun-bleached coral, and sea urchins.
I was confronted with the contrast between my endless list of “to-do’s” and the harmonious waves ebbing and flowing. Simplicity surrounded me and demanded my attention, forcing me to look at life, time and the meaning of my existence. I found my place somewhere between the aquamarine shade of the shallow flats and the indigo hue of the sunset. I sensed a renewed reason for the season amidst the full moons glow. The plethora of decorations that had overtaken my holidays were washed away by cool salt water. Flamingos, donkeys, cows, goats, cats, crabs and iguanas walked amo...
Stress is our body’s reaction to danger- whether real or perceived. It is a complex chemical response to protect us and keep us from harm’s way.
Each of our bodies are designed to survive! When threatened – for example under attack by a wild animal, in a major accident, or caught in a fire, chemicals like cortisol and epinephrine are turned on and activate the “fight or flight response”. In simple words, this response causes us a feeling of anxiety, agitation, readiness to run and hide, a racing heart, dry mouth, nausea, sweating and an overall unsettled experience.
Stress that turns on certain body functions; it also turns off others. High energy is needed in stressful situations and that is directed to muscle mass and focus. Stress can be valuable in such acute situations, as it increases our ability to focus on one thing and perform under taxing conditions- like preparing for exams, handling emergencies, or preforming on an interview. But while preparing for “fight or fl...
Is it I? My family? My doctor? My employer? The Health Care or Public Health System? All of the above?
What if I am burned out, a doctor, or a burned-out doctor? Who then, is responsible for my health? Is the answer the same? Are doctors alone responsible for their own health? Or is it a systems issue? If the impact of burnout in health professionals extends beyond the individual to the system and to the health of the population then isn’t this a public health crisis- and aren’t we all then responsible to lead change?
This debate is front and center across academic centers and hospital systems nationwide, with strong opinions on both sides. Physicians who place health and wellness above all values are insulted to be accused of not caring for themselves. They maintain that they have the knowledge and skills to promote health and wellness in others, but they push back, stating that self-care in a toxic environment is not humanly possible. Th...
I’ve never been to Walden Pond and have had only subtle glimpses into Thoreau’s message on the therapeutic value of nature. Walking the Coast to Coast trail, with my daughter through Wordsworth’s Grasmere and the Lakes District of England provided me an intensified belief in the power of nature.
Hiking from the west coast of St. Bees to the small town of Kirkby Stephen my focus was on the sights, smells and sounds of 75 mph winds of Hurricane Ali, rain reflecting off Gortex, four boots marching in sync, rivers and waterfalls flooding our paths, and baaaa’s and mooo’s of native British dwellers.
Over 6 days, 88 miles, two national parks, and 4 summits, I observed:
Stillness giving way to harmony
Quiet creating space to think
Calm allowing for creativity, and
Beauty bringing joy and smiles- even when sopping wet
Deep feelings of peacefulness, previously foreign to me, arrived, but not without a battle of internal forces against modern technology. From my first muddy foo...
Are we born happy or do we create our happiness? According to research, happiness is determined more by our actions and reactions to situations than to life’s experiences themselves. In other words, how we perceive and approach life determines a great portion of our satisfaction and wellbeing.
Expect No More; this is Happiness. An expression I read on a napkin at The Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach Florida has stuck with me. Could such a simple statement guide me? Expectations drive satisfaction much more so than reality. This simple statement reminded me that if I believe that what I have and who I am is NOT enough – I am locked into perpetual dissatisfaction, always trying to do and be more. The message is not about lowering expectations, but about appreciating what currently exists.
WHAT if who I am and what I have were enough? What if I didn’t need to change or be better? Better takes energy and perfect is, as I am often reminded, the enemy of good. What if I was content with my w...