Finding meaning through purpose

Having just finished reading the article, “For Doctors, Delving Deeper as a Way to Avoid Burnout” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, my thoughts shifted to the recent Physicians Leadership Academy (PLA) fall retreat, in which purpose and meaning were front stage throughout the weekend. 


One of the fundamental tenants of the PLA is that clarity of personal and organizational purpose is really the hidden leader in all that we do. Organizations that are clear about why they exist — their purpose for being, their meaning in the world — have the greatest chance of realizing their missions.  When purpose is clear, all people within an organization can orient themselves to the “true north” of the organization.  All operations, staffing, goals, etc, can be aligned with that purpose.  An organization’s meaning for being then becomes the driver for all that the organization does.  PLA participants know to search for organizational purpose in the organizations they work with if they want to be relevant.

The same principal is true for personal purpose (meaning). Throughout the ten months of the PLA, participants are challenged to reflect on and discover their own sense of personal purpose(s). We know that people who have a clearer sense of their personal purpose(s) are more likely to feel whole, confident, directed, and healthy. A person’s sense of personal meaning evolves and matures over time but is always in us, if we care to take the time to look at ourselves. The meditation practice we teach in the PLA is a great assist in coming to know who we really are. 

Dr. Phil Cass speaks to CMA Board members during a September luncheon

Dr. Phil Cass speaks to CMA Board members during a September luncheon

When a person’s sense of meaning is aligned with their daily work, not only can we avoid burnout, but we can actually thrive in the midst of dysfunctional systems.  Much like Viktor Frankl’s seminal work on “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which personal meaning was found to be a main factor in why some survived the holocaust, it is true today in medicine and all walks of life.

In his article, Mukherjee poses the following question; “As the practice of medicine shifts, can doctors avoid burnout by finding meaning? … We at the PLA say yes. But this is bigger than burnout,  purpose (meaning) is at the core of everything.

For more information about the Physicians Leadership Academy, click here. What are your thoughts or experiences with finding meaning through purpose? Let us know!