One of the first questions I am often asked by doctors and nurses when I am at a medical appointment is “What brings you here today?” or “What can I help you with today?” As a physiotherapist on an inpatient rehab unit, one question I ask myself before, during, and after work to ground myself is: “What is my purpose for being here today?” Imagine for a moment— when you meet with your patients and before you begin asking questions—they intently re-direct and ask, “Doctor, what is your purpose for being here today?”

Given the unfortunately high rates of physician burnout, I am deeply concerned about the future state of our healthcare system. Although we are making great strides in establishing diagnosis, prognosis, and coordinating care for our patients, we are not focusing enough on the pillars of the system: our physicians and what matters most to them.

As physicians, your patients look to you for compassionate, ethical, sound, and clinical support. Yet, you have to adapt to many different patients, caregivers, and colleagues each day. In the face of their adversities, you are the one who helps improve their lives and restore their faith in the greater system of care. This comes with great responsibility and stress, as well as profound significance.

But, what about you? Where do you rate yourself as a priority when it comes to your self-care and achieving peace and fulfillment? Do you believe that who you are every day matters? What are your unique powers and gifts that make you an excellent care provider? What has kept you here all of this time? Your overt purpose for practicing has a deeper sense of emotional attachment and understanding by your patient.

For example, you are working in the ER, your patient arrives and is terribly sick, and the family is distraught (trying to wrap their heads around what happened); you know time is of the essence and abruptly and strongly recommend a plan of care without attentive discussion with the family. Reluctantly, they agree because they feel they have no other options. Your patient, and their loved one, ends up dying. The family files a complaint, but not about an incorrect treatment approach or lack of knowledge, but because of your rushed and unprofessional manner.

The reality is, patients are not expected to know the expertise surrounding their care. That is up to us, as professionals, to be competent at our skill and uphold patient safety. However, patients do have a strong sense and understanding of the integrity on which your practice is demonstrated. How you earn your patients’ trust is based on the ongoing communication of the intangibles that make them feel important, understood, and dignified. Such meaningful connections are what reignite your purpose and enrich your patients’ lives.

Are you empathetic? Are you mindfully present? Do you empower your patients to advocate for themselves? Do you focus on solutions rather than barriers? Do you foresee and manage conflict constructively? Do you create a sense of belonging? Do you reflect on your practice and strive to grow professionally?

Before the next time you knock and open the office door to meet and greet your patient, pause and ask yourself, “What is my purpose for being here today?”  Then let your compassionate demeanor unfold with grace, gratitude, and passion.