Eva’s Excerpt December 2021

“What’s your why?” It’s a question I suspect a lot of people are asking themselves these days and it’s a question I think most of us don’t ask ourselves enough. Your why is the reason for your life’s work, your calling, convictions, and career mission. It is where and how you spend your time and the things you are willing to make sacrifices for to achieve. We spend more than a third of our lives working, 30 plus years, so “why” is an important question worthy of deep consideration. It’s also a question not everyone has the privilege to ask, so for those of us who do, like me, it is a blessing for which I am consistently thankful.

As most of you know, I am a general internist, and I found my clinical calling in medical school. I remain convinced that I could have been happy in any number of specialties, but what drew me to internal medicine was the complexity of the problem solving around multiple medical issues combined with the deep connection I was able to make with my patients in good times and bad. During COVID, I have had to sacrifice some of this time in order to help lead our occupational health and campus safety response, which has been very rewarding in its own right, but I do miss the unique grounding I feel when working with patients and learners at the bedside and in the clinic. Reflecting on that feeling of loss over the last year has confirmed that patient care is an important part of my why.

Early in the formation of my identity as a physician, I also became curious about what makes a good doctor and that eventually evolved into asking how we can train really great doctors. Answering this question and developing systems, programs, and people to do this has been my life’s work and is my career mission. In the last few years, I have been able to expand that mission to think broadly about health and scientific professions and contribute more broadly to the quest to determine how we equitably improve health through science, systems, education, and advocacy. These are hugely complex problems and I have no illusions that I will be the one to solve any of them. But, I feel blessed every day to lead some people, work with many people, participate in the training and mentoring of many more, and engage across our missions to contribute to this work. I feel very proud to work at an institution and with people who live and breathe pieces and parts of these things as their why. It is what I truly love about Washington University School of Medicine- it is SUCH a mission-driven place. Research, clinical care, and educating the future of medicine and science is what we do and who we are, and nothing we do could be done without each and every person here contributing towards that why each day.

I have another why that provides a different kind of grounding, my family and the networks of individuals I am lucky to call my friends. During these last two years they have perhaps been impacted by the demands of my career and life’s work more than I have fully observed. These individuals are my foundation and support, a source of recovery, and often the reason why I am able to accomplish the things that challenge and reward my professional capacities and curiosities.

During this holiday season and as we likely face another challenging winter, I want to remind you all of the importance of finding meaning in how you spend your time, and to seek a balance between the things that are difficult and those that are rewarding and fulfill on a broader purpose. My request to you is that you consider your individual why and ground yourself in it. Ask yourself: Is there a problem or challenge that emotionally moves you to take action? What kind of work gives you a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment? What aspect of your career have you enjoyed across all your past work experiences? What kind of work feels effortless to you, but drives your curiosity to learn more? Then think about what you can do to increase the time spent doing those things. All of us do things we don’t enjoy or at least enjoy less, but the trick is to try to do more of what you love, root your work in an important why, and take time to recharge to be able to get through the harder times.

I wish you and your families a happy holiday season, and a life filled with your why.