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Are Pediatricians Too Nice?

One summer a few years ago, I went to pick my son up from camp. He was attending a specialty day camp where the kids spent a week with an expert in some area of interest. The camp offered everything from basketball, soccer, and tennis, to acting, magic, and chess. It was the first time I was going to pick him up, and I wasn’t exactly sure where to go or how I would find him.

When I arrived, I found how easy it was. The kids were separated into their groups with a counselor and a large sign indicating to the parents where each group stood. As I scanned the area, an observation and thought jumped out at me. It struck me that while the signs were great, I almost didn’t need them to know where I would most likely find my son. With just a glance, I could guess which group of kids was there for football and which were there for computer coding.

My intent here is not to judge, criticize, or stereotype. My goal is to point out that people (even at a young age) tend to gravitate toward their own. They fall into tribes or clans based on their comfort zones, personality traits, and interests. It makes me think about the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter that placed students into houses when they arrived at Hogwarts. But Harry knew which house he wanted to be in and thought to himself, “not Slytherin.” It’s in our nature to seek comfort with our own.

So how does this observation relate to pediatricians? Well, when I was in medical school, and it was time to choose which residency we wanted to apply to, a similar sorting seemed to occur, and the pediatricians, for the most part, were pretty different from the surgeons.

I know this is a gross generalization, but this is the basis of marketing and branding. The general avatar of the pediatrician is that of the nicest, most caring, patient, and accommodating of doctors. One who focuses on long-term relationship building and puts her patients’ needs ahead of her own.

Now, this is all good, but this persona has a downside, and pediatricians are feeling it today more than ever.

In our never-ending desire to help others, to be liked, to give, and to give more, pediatricians run the risk of going too far. We are creating our own suffering because we don’t know how to set loving boundaries. We don’t know how to leave work at work or balance the needs of our staff and ourselves with our patients. When taken too far, I’m saying that our good qualities become liabilities and put our emotional and physical health at risk.

It’s hard enough to carry these qualities into the world of healthcare with its ever-increasing demands from patients, payers, and health systems, but today in the midst of the respiratory crisis we are facing, it is even worse.

So I ask you, fellow pediatricians: How are you doing? Are you giving more than you have? Keep your amazing qualities. They make you the doctor and person you are, but learn to practice moderation. Support yourself as fiercely as you support your patients. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for others. The world needs you at your best!

Jennifer Shaer, MD, is a pediatrician.

This post appeared on KevinMD.

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