The Power of Personal Responsibility

Power of Personal Responsibility

When you hear the phrase “personal responsibility” it may conjure notions of duty and obligations. Certainly as a physician you do have many obligations – to your patients, colleagues, yourself, and medicine as a whole. However, personal responsibility is also about empowerment and having the knowledge, resources, and authority to fulfil your obligations and be the best physician possible.

There are five areas in your life over which you have influence as per performance coaches:

  • Your Aim.
  • Your Attention.
  • Your Attitude.
  • Your Affections.
  • Your Actions.

Yet there are only two ways in which your life can change:

  1. Something new comes into your life.
  2. Something new comes from within you.

People who are successful and content follow their own path and pursue their own dreams. They know what they want, at least in general, and are aware of flux and change in their environment. However, they are not bound to the “the crowd” and current trends, but rather have their own road.

If you are unsure what your aim is, it is worth taking some time to think about it. Simply asking yourself every few days about your immediate goals and being mindful of your environment will lead to excellent ideas about appropriate paths to take. It is also worth trying out meditation to discover your true passion (Insight Timer is very popular mobile app with great selection of guided meditations; this is one of the meditations that might be helpful).

Periodic reflection is really all that is needed to bring you closer to your goals.

Of course, once you have started setting goals, constant monitoring of your actions is necessary to ensure that you are indeed on the proper road and that you stay on it.

While appropriate short term goals are a great start, long term goals are also necessary to excel in your personal and professional life. In fact, short term goals are fairly easy. The majority of people engage in them daily. Short term goals are part of human nature and can be something as simple as eating breakfast. It is long term goals that tend to define who you are as a person.

Proper goals are even more critical for doctors since they often literally have others’ lives in their hands.

Personal Responsibility for the Physician

The Hippocratic Oath, an exposition of principles to guide physicians’ conduct, dates from the fifth century BCE. Its statements protect the patients’ rights and oblige the physician to behave in an altruistic and responsible manner towards patients. It was modified in the 10th or 11th century CE to eliminate references to pagan deities and is widely used in a variety of forms to mark entry into the medical profession, typically upon graduation from medical school (1).

  • Respect human life and the dignity of every individual.
  • Refrain from supporting or committing crimes against humanity and condemn all such acts.
  • Treat the sick and injured with competence and compassion and without prejudice.

More than ever, the physician-patient relationship is full of responsibilities. Interactions must always be based on trust, so that the patient feels at ease disclosing all necessary information needed to make a diagnosis. Doctors must follow a code of ethics and keep patient data confidential (2).

But beyond confidentiality there are challenges that involve professional liability, compliance, patient satisfaction, administration, managed care, hospital administration, employees, insurance of lack thereof, research funding, and philanthropy (3). Despite all these responsibilities, the practice of medicine still offers great rewards that come from having the power to make people’s lives better.

The main duty of a modern physician is not to simply save lives, but to maintain or increase the quality of life for their patients. This is not strictly limited to interactions in the hospital or exam room, but also includes advocating for a better quality of life for patients socially and economically. Even when faced with extending a patient’s life, doctors must consider what sort of quality of life the patient can expect and, of course, the patient’s own wishes (4).

Physicians’ personal responsibility doesn’t stop at a duty to their patients and to society. It also extends to good leadership. Doctors often serve as mentors to residents, interns, and other medical staff. As such, they have an obligation to set an excellent example as well as be effective teachers for the next generation of medicine (5).

Finally, the most difficult and important responsibility you may face is to yourself. While your other duties may become overwhelming, a truly successful doctor is able to “turn it off” when he or she is not on duty. This is not a simple matter, but you owe it to yourself, your friends, and your family to take on this responsibility and try to separate your personal and professional lives.

This is especially difficult when there is a negative outcome with a patient. The tendency is to replay the scenario and second guess yourself. As Jordan Grumet, MD, writes in his blog: “It’s not some sadistic game we play to torture ourselves. It’s more of a ritual.” (6). Yet, it is still part of your responsibility to learn and grow from a bad experience – and then – to move on.

Physicians remain well-respected in society and with good reason. They have enormous influence on lives and great authority as well. As a physician, your daily challenge is to use your power and authority to uphold ethical standards, improve the lives of your patients, and be the best doctor, and person, that you can.

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