Thinking About Medicine: Your Inner Peace


Being a happier doctor, nurse or medical student is not only important to you but it could also mean happier (and hopefully healthier) patients. Several studies described a set of well-being practices that are correlated with the feeling of happiness (Source: BMJ, WJM). I tried to summarize these practices in the mnemonic MOTORS because the pursuit of happiness, in its altruistic sense, can be the motor of your life.

MOTORS” stands for:

Meaning - find a meaning in what you do for a living but don't forget to set limits around it.
Outlook - have a positive outlook on life. Be philosophical but also focused on success.
Time - spend quality time with F&F (family and friends).
Out of the singular chase of money or prestige.
Religious and spiritual practices.
Self-care practices like sports and meditation.

All these 6 practices were correlated with feeling happier, and some of them even with living longer. Read more in Advice to young doctors from the BMJ's editorial board and listen to the NPR story 'Is Happiness All in Your Head?'

A Piece of My Mind of JAMA

One of my favorite readings as a resident was A Piece of My Mind which is called the soul of JAMA by some readers. Everybody who has been involved in medicine knows that your thoughts about your patients do not end when you leave the hospital or the office after working hours. Your thoughts often come home with you and many times you have to share them with somebody. Authors who write A Piece of My Mind share them with us and it often brings a tear to your eye. But that's OK. This is what makes us human and that was probably one of the reasons why many of us chose to study medicine in the first place years ago.

Below is a selection of a few issues in the section A Piece of My Mind of JAMA and similar pieces in the other major medical journals:

Brave, Waiting for Pasteur by Brendan M. Reilly, A Piece of My Mind, JAMA

Dr. Reilly reflects on his thoughts about a homeless man who came to the Cook County Hospital. If you have visited the old CCH, you should remember the Pasteur monument in front of it with the engraving:

One doesn't ask of one who suffers, What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says, you suffer, this is enough for me, You belong to me, and I shall help you.

Gomer by Michael D. Burg, A Piece of My Mind, JAMA, 10/04

How does it feel to be the patient that you see every day?

"I know you’re talking about me. I can hear you in here, in room number 3 near the nurses station. I’m the "septic gallbladder." Occasionally one of you calls me just "sepsis" or "the gallbladder..."

For the Obscure Researcher by Daniel Shapiro, A Piece of My Mind, JAMA

Daniel Shapiro reflects on the physician who discovered his disease more than 100 years ago - Thomas Hodgkin. "Your manuscript sat on a shelf, untouched...Thirty years later your manuscript was pulled from the shelf by another scientist and your work was finally appreciated. The disease I carried was named for you. Hodgkin's disease. But by then, of course, you had months to live."

Hodgkin's lymphoma - Mayo Clinic - YouTube -- Hodgkin's lymphoma, also called Hodgkin's disease, is a cancer of the lymphatic system. In this video, Mayo Clinic hematologist Dr. Stephen Ansell explains what Hodgkin's lymphoma is, and how it is treated.

A Great Case by Jerome Groopman, Perspective on Doctors and Patients - NEJM 11/04

You never, ever want to be a "great case". Why do we put this label on our patients then?

The power of song by Ian Nesbitt, A memorable patient, BMJ 11/04

"Like most doctors, I have seen a great many deaths...It was a strange and humbling experience, and has taught me much more than the fact that dying in intensive care does not have to be undignified."

I Want To Go Home by Cynthia X. Pan, et al. , On Being a Doctor - Ann Int Med 12/04

What can be done to bring "home" a terminally ill patient who does not speak English, and the home is 7000 miles away.

Video: Dr. George Vaillant shares insights from his decades of following the Grant Study men.


Physicians wellbeing. WJM theme issue, volume 174(1); January 2001.
On Being a Doctor. Annals of Internal Medicine.
6 Signs Your Boss Might Be Killing You - and 6 Ways to Fight Back. A slide show by
Career Burnout - a Healthcare Hazard. MSSP Nexus Blog.
You don't have to be happy to do your job well, writes Joe who is the 'world's most popular blogging anesthesiologist.'
20 Ways to Get and Stay Happy. Time, 2007.
Finding Happiness in PubMed, and Life. Open Medicine Blog, 09/2007.
Happiness. DB’s Medical Rants, 03/2008.
The Atlantic: What makes us happy, 2009.
Experienced happiness is largely set by personality, it will temporarily respond to changing circumstances. The Lancet, 2010.
Image source:, public domain.

Published: 01/15/2005
Updated: 05/16/2009

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