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  • Nathan Riley, MD

The Animal Exercise

At our fellowship process group this morning, we were given a simple task. From an arrangement of plastic animals, creatures, and dinosaurs, me and my palliative medicine co-fellows were asked to select toys that reflected: (1) how we viewed ourselves and (2) how we saw ourselves as physicians.

Some common themes appeared. Most of my colleagues saw themselves as regal, confident, elegant, and competent, and their animal selections reflected that (imagine: whale, sea turtle, bear, swan). The animals that they selected to represent themselves as medical professionals, on the other hand, were often armored, defensive, and avoidant or aggressive. Imagine living a life in which your 80-hour work week is spent in a role that is so distinctly different from your aspiration.

Developing resiliency implies that an individual develops strategies to suffer through a temporary stress and to become stronger as a result of the process. If physicians that have recently completed residency reflect on themselves in this way, then we are nurturing a lot of unhappy, not-so-resilient sea turtles…

For those interested, these were my animal selections:

How I see myself outside of medicine: busy, deliberate, confident, strong, generally calm

How I saw myself at start of residency: loud and proud, confident, creative, optimistic

How I see myself at end of residency: flying under the radar, competent in my skills, but afraid to show them off for fear of being exposed


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