An erosion of the soul. . . a deterioration of values, spirit and will.
Joseph Ferraro M.D. Staten Island, New York
February 8, 1987 - December 7, 2021
For more than a decade, I covered Radiology in a Level One Trauma ER, teaching residents and delivering diagnoses in a dark back office. Covering meant I poured over thousands of images, usually CT Scans of my patients' innards, from brains to their bones and everything in between. My scans have info the surgeon needs and it's in imparting the info to them where complex interactions occur and where and how I got to know Dr. Ferraro. And got to know how authentic, sharp and a master at enrolling his team he was.
You knew his team was coming from a ways away, as they didn’t just walk, but floated en masse down the hospital halls. No easy feat with the kinds of responsibilities they had, as they were invariably exhausted, stressed and likely hungry. Quick-on-the-pickup, aware of
his patients and an excellent clinician, Dr. Ferraro's personality would fill my reading room. Last week, this all ended for forever when this young surgeon took his own life, gone way too soon.
Its probably not by coincidence that @Jennifer Tam (AND I) had the honor of interviewing @Dr. Ronald Epstein, family physician, palliative care physician, writer, researcher , teacher of communication and mindful practice in medicine. You want to get your copy of “Attending- Medicine Mindfulness and Humanity” and study his observations on Physician burnout with his preferred original definition by Maslach: as “an erosion of the soul. . . a deterioration of values, spirit and will.” An expert training for a lifetime, to share the wisdom of his peace of mind; Mindful in the moment, his experience is firmly rooted in decades of research. “Everyone alive experiences Trauma, and it isn’t always the magnitude of the trauma that predicts whether we will be wounded but rather it's much more complicated (and common) than that. The trauma, the personality type, the circumstance in which it arises . . . all these variables can affect us.” It isn’t news to him that many enter this vocation as Carl Jung proposed as "Wounded Healers' ' seeking relief for scars buried below surface. Dr. Epstein sees this as a natural cycle where “Physicians enter the field unaware of their own wounds, and through connection with their patients, gain the capacity to heal their own traumas”.
Dr. Epstein leaves us with pearls to attend to your own stress while “it's small” to nip it in the bud because as it looms larger, it becomes more difficult to manage. He also advises us to study our own reactive patterns- adding self-compassion as these are “never pretty”, brought to life by a “fight or flight “response. He advises, “if you are frozen, take a step, if you are tribal, meet someone new, if you are angry at someone, share a sense of humanity but the first step of all is awareness.
Lastly, and for us @GrooveMD, most profoundly, the “role of medical education is to invite people to recognize we are all wounded and that alone can make us more powerful as we heal.”
I only wish Dr. Ferraro were here to hear this now.