I’ll admit it. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. When our children were tiny, my wife and I made the decision that we would do anything to not be on the New Jersey Turnpike on that day, and we began hosting Thanksgiving dinner. We don’t have a very large home, but we always make sure that people who come should bring whoever they need to bring for it to feel like Thanksgiving for them. We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to celebrate the holiday with so much extended family and friends. So I was always willing to do call on Christmas so I could be free for Thanksgiving.
But it is a complicated holiday for doctors, who care for so many who may feel they have less to be thankful for and who may not have extended family or friends with whom to celebrate. I recall a patient—a retired teacher—who we learned that, after his sister died, celebrated the holiday by himself, eating a hot dog and some potato chips. As we reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for, it is impossible not to be mindful of those less fortunate. Especially doing what we do every day: illness causes pain and suffering in our patients, and we physicians bear witness to that daily, even as we do our best to alleviate it. It is an incredible privilege to be a physician, an extraordinary opportunity to find the kind of deep meaning in work for which so many hunger.
So many of us feel these days that the deep meaning is obscured by the genuine frustrations and challenges of health care today: the burden of the EHR, the ongoing quest for RVUs, the continuing demands of regulators, the crush of time. And in the background is how high stakes it all is: what you do every day matters so much to your patients, and the consequences are often, literally, life or death. Though it feels routine to us because it is just “what we do,” this is a genuinely heroic action. Doctors are heroes, wielding knowledge for the benefit of patients. And on this holiday, many of your patients are giving thanks for things you did as their doctor to help them, many more than you will ever know.
I hope that you enjoy the holiday surrounded by good food and people you love. And I hope, among the many things you think about over the holiday, pride in what you do and gratitude for the privilege of being able to do it are part of your holiday thoughts.