Angela De Hamer, DO, FACOI

Time to Check In on Your Crew

by Angela De Hamer, DO, FACOI

April 17, 2024

As I walked into the lecture hall, I spotted my not-so-assigned seat. Familiar faces greeted me while I made my way to the familiar space and time. The standard set up ensued, making room for bags, snacks, and books. That day, I had brought in special banana bread with nuts and chocolate chips to support the appetites and nutrition of my lovely friends and colleagues, who always met me with smiles. I would “break bread" with those in the shared row who quickly became a chosen family.  

Soon, the computer was set up and the room lights were humming. The room was buzzing with conversation—stories of the weekend, studying plans, readying for the next exam. While the particulars of the exact space were not important, the familiarity and comfort of the people were everything.  

I was part of the back row crew. We sat together, laughed together, studied together, ate together, and supported one another through medical school. That cherished support continues to this day as this medicine life unfolds. Births, deaths, jobs, explorations of purpose—our journeys have continued to overlap and intertwine over days, weeks, months and years, beginning in that tender time as we each embarked upon a process that would change each of us to our core. Our comradery and support were constant and personal. We provided one another with accountability to accomplish the larger goal of our purpose to care for patients and the world around us. We made plans together and supported one another. Our relationships contribute to making our journey, our purpose, our very lives personal. And it has been said, if it isn’t personal, what is it? What are we actually doing?  

I encourage you to go to the end of any experience—that patient encounter, that nursing or administrative interaction, that time with loved ones, that support of children, that next word—and ask “how do I want this story to read in the end?” Do THAT. That is the next step. There will be times when “doing that" is hard, when the previous encounter took a little more than we anticipated or intended. Life has a way of filling our plates with seasons that are just a little more than we can carry, or even an entire logarithmic increase more than we can handle. However, what we choose in the face of these seasons is up to us. How we respond is up to us. How we show up is up to us. What we do for our colleagues, loved ones, patients, and family, THAT is up to us.  

In regards to the recent publication of 80 years of data from The Harvard Study of Adult Development, Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2017, stated, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” Our closest relationships contribute most significantly to our joy and happiness and are able to give way to showing up as our best selves. They allow our dearest and closest to do the same in a beautiful exchange. This study was initially intended to monitor the contribution of advanced (college) education to the lifestyle and health of its participants. Interestingly, it revealed who we love and how, how we support our communities, and how our closest relationships contribute to our health with greatest magnitude. This study significantly demonstrated how the satisfaction present in the closest relationships of the study participants while in their 50s gave way to the healthiest outcomes and longevity to the participants’ 80s. Physical and emotional pain were less, sleep improved, memory and cognitive function were maintained, and anxiety decreased. While cortisol may be great for running from a lion, it benefits us little while we need to be patient and loving and fully present.  

So, I respectfully and with highest intention ask, how is your crew? The world is small and technology has allowed us to connect and disconnect in magnitudes of ways and means. Time and life are short. I encourage each of us to check in on one another. Let us give time and space for a sincere ask, allowing the safety and time for an authentic response. Take those two minutes to check in, five minutes to plan a meet up, 30 minutes to catch up and give space and love to another. At a time in medicine when so many of us are being pushed just past our comfort zone, just past our emotional bandwidth, being asked to do a little more than what is physically possible, check in with one another. In an occupation and technological age where many of us are able to hide behind our solemn medical expertise and algorithms, check in with one another.

With recent changes to medicine, its practice, the recent pandemic, economic woes, wars, technology, work burden, purpose, death, illness, cancer, depression, financial concerns, children, parents, and more, showing up open and whole can be a challenge. I would like to encourage each of us in several ways. Spend time with yourself, being mindful, giving yourself permission to take time to reset your emotional bandwidth. Find your moment, go the long way to the next patient encounter, get a coffee or tea, move the body to move the mind. Whatever reset looks like to you, do that. Spend time with family, friends, and loved ones in meaningful, holistically present, authentic ways.  

So, I ask, who is your “back row” crew? Check in on them. Do it today. Take those 30 seconds to send a text. It can make all the difference for you, for them, for our patients and families, and can extend to the world around us. We will all be the better for it. Challenges in life will continue to be ever-present, but checking in and supporting one another authentically and with purpose can certainly lighten the burden. Let us encourage without placation. Let us support one another with faith, truth, and compassion. Let us listen fully and patiently, love wholly, and act authentically. Let us check in on one another. We never know the extent of what such a simple loving act can do. Now, let’s each reach out, touch base, catch up with our crew.  

Stay True to Why You Pursued Medicine.