Mukta Panda has an important question for you: What is your why?
This, in an incredibly abbreviated form, is at the heart of her life's work.
Dr. Panda currently serves as the assistant dean for Well-Being and Medical Student Education, and is a professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga. But beyond that -- in a world where physician burnout has reached pandemic proportions -- she has dedicated herself to helping medical professionals nurture their own well-being so they can continue to care for others.
"Think about the 'why'" she says. "Why did I come into medicine? I ask my students and team to intentionally pause and spend time with that question.
"Often in our busyness and business, that 'why' gets buried. But it's when I can think of the 'why,' that I begin to feel as though I am using my birthright gifts for the benefit of others. ... It's when I can connect passion and purpose, and I feel joy."
We all have various, and sometimes conflicting roles in this life, she says, using herself as the example: She's a clinician, an educator, a scholar and a leader -- all of that in addition to her familial responsibilities of mother, sibling and daughter. But juggling those roles for those audiences can leave a person feeling fragmented and fatigued.
"We spend most of our time at work," she says. "And we come to work wanting to do our best. But often we feel we need to put on a mask, being someone other than who we really are."
In addressing this, Panda has co-authored the Oath to Self-Care and Well-Being. She calls it an amendment to the Hippocratic Oath, offering the medical community permission without apology to care for themselves in order to be able to care for others.
Until now in our work culture, we have thought of burnout as the problem of the individual, Panda explains. If a person is having a problem, he or she needs to fix it. But in the Oath to Self-Care, a large part of the responsibility is put back on the system itself.
"We all have the hunger to make a difference in each other's lives. And as health care professionals, we have the opportunity to do that every day," she says. "But so many times, there is a lack of joy. We need to reevaluate the way we do things so that we're not exhausted, so we can have the energy to fight for the greater good."
In working with medical students, Panda still uses an exercise from her own training days. She was asked to reflect on what she might want her tombstone to say. Scary, but also affirming in that her story -- what she might bring to the world -- did, in fact, matter.
"We are all going to leave behind a legacy. Who we are and how we show up in the world makes a big difference," she says. "What is your legacy going to be?"
Mukta Panda, MD
* Role: Assistant Dean for Well-Being and Medical Student Education and Professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga.
* Career: Former chair of the Department of Internal Medicine; co-author of "Oath to Self-Care and Well-Being;" author of "Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being" and "Rhythm of our Hearts;" local and international keynote speaker; a master of the American College of Physicians, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
* Personal: Daughter of two physicians; mother to Natasha and Rajas, Nikhil and Anuja; grandmother to Amara and Leela.