Five Reasons Every Physician Needs a Tribe

Traditionally, the practice of medicine has been characterized by solo physicians or at the smallest groups of physicians. Throughout the course of the day, many physicians work independently with no oversight and very little collaboration with their colleagues. This professional isolation has been detrimental to physicians both professionally and personally. Therefore physicians need to find a tribe in which to belong. A tribe is defined as a group of people with similar interests who come together for a common purpose. Here are five reasons it is imperative for physicians to belong to a tribe; our very survival depends on it.

  1. There is strength in numbers. Because the practice of medicine relies on the ability to work independently, physicians are often isolated professionally. We may be the only physician in our office or the only physician working in a particular unit at a specific time. This professional isolation has had dire political implications for physicians. Because other health care professionals work closely together daily, they are more likely to rally around each other and to be vocal about specific issues. Physicians on the other hand, may be less likely to know what is going on in their local medical community and thus not as likely to coalesce to advance their political interests.
  2. Tribe members pool their resources. In harsh climates, tribe members are more likely to survive than those without tribes. In fact, ex-communication from one’s tribe during harsh conditions resulted in death. The reason for this is that tribe members pooled their resources for the benefit of the whole tribe. Physicians need this. Belonging to a group of other physicians either formally through professional organizations or informally through social media, gives physicians access to resources that may not have been available to the physician otherwise.
  3. Tribes prevent social isolation which is a risk factor for depression and burn out. The professional isolation experienced by many physicians leads them to suffer from “The Only One Syndrome”. This is a syndrome that I define as the physician thinking they are “the only one” who has been sued, “the only one” who is in financial trouble, “the only one” whose marriage is failing, “the only one” who is depressed. Belonging to a tribe, especially one that is supportive, lessens the risk of “The Only One Syndrome”. When tribe members are open and honest about what they are going through or have gone through, it helps the tribe members to know they are not alone.
  4. Tribes provide accountability. Tribes have informal or formal rules and each member is expected to play a certain role and to govern themselves according to the rules of the tribe. When this does not happen, the member is kicked out of the tribe. This requires accountability on the part of the member. Many professional physician organizations require accountability. The state medical board requires physicians to attest to their behavior or explain mis-behavior on a regular and consistent basis. Other organizations require that physicians attain a certain level of training and accomplish certain things as requirements for membership. This accountability serves to “keep you on your toes” so to speak and requires that you continue to grow personally and professionally.
  5. Tribes are just fun. It is fun to hang out with people you like and to do fun stuff with them. Because of the serious nature of our work, many physician don’t have enough fun on a regular basis. Many physicians don’t have enough time to spend with family and friends. Many physicians have abandoned their hobbies due to the time constraints from working. However, having a tribe, belonging to a group of people with similar interests is just plain fun!

Be sure to join my locums Facebook Group: Creating Careers in Medicine to find your tribe!

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