Ode to a Physician: A Tree, a Car and an Empty Glass Jar


Every July, all around the country, hospitals and upper-level residents brace themselves. The new “long white coats” graze the wards, clinics and ORs.

Eyes wide open and procedure logs begging for cases, the service to others as a new doctor begins.

Twenty-three years ago, I was a 1st year resident in Internal Medicine. If I could look back and gift myself some recommendations on how to REMAIN passionate in my career in medicine, here is what I would share….

Be like a TREE… Take the time to be in nature.

Even a tree begins as a seed, soil, some water, and sun. Without much effort, before long there is life. You do not need much. You need what is basic. Saplings rebuild forests every day. YOU are necessary…but not special. Remember there are towering examples of experience all around to shelter and teach you. Respect the old trees. Be humble. Respect rest. Choose nutrition wisely. Enjoy the sunlight daily. Brace yourself. The struggles and torrential winds that come along are necessary. They strengthen your roots and teach resilience. You are part of a garden with diverse vegetation all living together to sustain the other. Grow together with others. There is enough sun for everyone. Do not block the path of light for another. Embrace a growth mindset. Wisdom is knowing what you do not know. If you don’t know something-say it and seek answers (and preferably from a book) You will get bad reviews-from patients and attendings- even when you feel that you have given them your all. Some people will not like you for one reason or another.

Forgive often. Your roots will become stronger for it. LOVE. It is the most powerful medicine. Start a gratitude journal. Track your growth. It will be your personal almanac-reminding you of what environment you grow best in. Train your branches to reach toward the light. Avoid co-rumination. Choose positive situations which encourage fertile cultivation of your mind and your skills. Do not learn bad habits because they are “easy”. Weeds grow quickly and easily but are of little value and purpose.

Take the time to grow into your purpose. It will not be easy, it will be worth it. Prune often. Prune habits that do not contribute to your own rest and self-care. Prune social events or people that force you to say “yes” when you want to say “no”. Prune expectations that are not your own. You do not have to always be right, you just need to be good in your intentions. You don’t need a white coat to heal others. Value and acknowledge those who help in spreading the seeds and nectar, respecting every member of the team. Smile often and say “thank you”. Not because you MUST but because you CAN. The fruit you bear is meant to be given away-often and without the promise of a reward or recognition.

Don’t carry regret. Or anger. They dull your shears, and you remain holding on to things that do not bear good fruit. Hold only what you can. Prune branches that are too heavy. There is no “balance”. There is only what you choose to hold right now, today. What you harvest results from the work you do not only with your mind but moreso with your hands. Touch your patients. This “human grounding” is essential to your profession. A CAR…You are YOUR best mechanic. Treat your body better than you treat your car (or at least as well as). Start your engine often. Cars that “sit” most of the time are either valued as “vintage” or discarded in the scrapyard. Do not commit yourself to the latter. Keep your coolant full-avoid overheating. Yoda was right—FEAR leads to anger. Find the root cause of disease and you will find what a patient fears most. Take your foot off the accelerator occasionally to appreciate cruise control. Check your tire pressures often, with a hand gauge-do not rely on a “warning light” which implies impending danger. Prevention is key. Know that the kind of fuel with which you feed your engine will determine its performance. You will get the best from your body when you give it the best care. Be classic, take care of your interior as well as your exterior. Your odometer begins rolling the moment you drive off the lot. You are only this young today. Most of you will have the fewest number of dependents, responsibilities, open charts, op notes, emails, phone messages, financial planning meetings, recitals, little league games, school events, playdates, and tasks TODAY.

Life gets busier from here. Expect it. Learn how to budget your time NOW. Change your daily route often. Embrace detours. Go to as many concerts, art shows and nature walks as you do conferences. Read books that you want to-not because you have been tasked to. Whatever you do-READ. You cannot turn back the odometer. Make every mile count. Buy an EMPTY GLASS JAR Each morning, reflect on your EMPTY GLASS JAR…and then try to fill it before you begin your day in service to others. Glass. Because it is shaped with fire. It cannot experience “burnout” It can only be melted-not truly burned. Embrace the moments that WILL shape you. Glass. Because we can see how full or empty it is. Glass… because it allows you to see YOUR reflection in it. Recognize when you do not like what you see staring back at you. Others will see what you see. If you do not like what is staring back, ask for help. Keep God first. He is there in every encounter you will be a part of. Fill your jar first-with prayer, personal time, healthy food and knowledge. If you do not, you will have nothing to give to others. You cannot pour anything from an empty glass jar. Share with others what you can from your jar.

Do NOT give what you cannot or do not want to give. Keep only what matters. Your patients will teach you as much as you teach them. If you are willing to learn. The greatest lesson they teach is that if we are fortunate, we will all need someone else one day. To lean on to and to care for us. Be patient. Be kind. Make moments of relevant value rather than relative value units. Lean in, listen closely, laugh as much as you cry and reflect on a tree, a car and an empty glass jar. A. Espinoza Author Andrea G. Espinoza MD Board Certified Pulmonologist Board Certified LifeStyle Medicine



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