Stepping back from the daily business of treating patients and managing a practice to reflect on our satisfaction is not something our schedules usually accommodate. But no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, removing ourselves from the responsibilities that continuously demand our attention to ponder issues such as why we do what we do can be a valuable exercise. We all have personal and professional goals, but happiness and satisfaction are less easily defined, as are the factors that help us to achieve them.
SO NOW WE ASK: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE AESTHETICS?
For some, it might be because this sphere generally affords us the latitude to control our own destiny, both in terms of how we practice and how we create an image for ourselves as clinicians. Or perhaps you were drawn to cosmetic medicine because there is intrinsic satisfaction in the work itself—working with your hands, being an artisan—and being proud of your own skill and a job well done.
Beyond these and many other individual measures of satisfaction, we should also consider the larger mission of aesthetic medicine and how it connects with our own pursuits of happiness. Ultimately, the satisfaction of our patients may be the most influential factor in achieving it ourselves. For many patients, we are more than just doctors. We actively help them achieve their goals. It is a tremendous privilege to be entrusted with patients' faces and bodies in order to help them feel better about themselves. And when patients appreciate the outcome we quickly can recognize their happiness manifested by the extra spring in their step or sparkle in their eye.
Unfortunately, there are some people who will never be happy, no matter how good the results. Some patients may have unrealistic expectations, others may have body dysmorphia, and somewhere between are those who will only and always see the “glass as half empty.” In order to be happy ourselves, we must accept that we cannot make everyone happy. This may be the most difficult element to being an aesthetic physician. And this is not something emphasized or taught in our training. Many aesthetic physicians who tend to be perfectionists struggle with this wrinkle and don't learn it until they are out in practice. We are quick to blame bad outcomes as the result of bad products or bad practitioners, and while at times this may be true, more often our failure resides in selecting a patient whose expectations are beyond the reasonable.
Whereas physicians in other fields who treat the psyche spend years training on how to manage the emotions of their patients, aesthetic medicine has evolved from an artistic mold and therefore tends to direct more attention on form and function rather than mood and motive. Perhaps more attention to understanding the mind of our patients will help us better understand ourselves. For those who have successfully mitigated the occasional disappointed patient and have mastered the doctor-patient relationship, limitless satisfaction is to be gained from the deep, personal interaction we are privileged to have.
For those who struggle with the emotional endurance inherent to being an aesthetic physician, outside the doctor-patient relationship, we are fortunate to have many channels through which we can achieve personal and professional goals. One way we can do this is by sharing the knowledge we've accumulated by teaching and mentoring—a Hippocratic canonized component to being a physician. Others may find satisfaction in research, practice management, or corporate strategizing.
In today's healthcare environment, it is easy to dwell on all there is to be un-happy about. To focus on what makes us happy is harder, perhaps, but no less vital. Our means for achieving happiness are varied and limitless. The first step is a step back to reflect on what being happy as a clinician means to you.
Heidi Waldorf, MD, FAAD, and Steven Dayan, MD, FACS