Creating and Expanding Your World of Containers

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When I hear the word “container,” I envision a plant in a container – a beautiful mosaic flowerpot. It sits on a window ledge slowly growing as the sun shines. Container has been used often during our Physicians Leadership Academy (PLA) sessions. However, it was not until I had a gathering at my house of parents and teenagers that I recognized how many different interpretations there are for the word. When someone remarked about the atmosphere in my house, I realized I had not just simply put out tables and chairs, but I had created a container for high school students and parents to gather.  As I look back at this, I realized my placement of the food and drinks and style of music play supported and encouraged mingling and conversation.

Just one of the many  containers  in the world.

Just one of the many containers in the world.

Now, I can look through aspects of my life in terms of containers.  One of the first containers created in my medical career was the circle that was formed outside a patient’s room. This is where the other students, interns, residents, and attendings who were part of the medical team would discuss the patient’s case and make decisions.    We were the walls of the container and, in this container, is where we were grew the most in our knowledge of medicine.  

Medicine in our era has gone from a physician doing both inpatient and outpatient medicine to doing one or the other.  As an outpatient physician, I now work in the walls of my office.  I have fewer interactions with other physicians than when I was in residency or doing both inpatient and outpatient medicine. Furthermore, I have to spend more time working on the computer, thus cutting down on my interactions with both my colleagues and patients.  The computer has caused my container to shrink further, leading to increased separation from my peers. I realize that this requirement—having my head in the computer all the time—is causing isolation.  Additionally, upholding HIPPA requirements literally forced us to put up more walls in our office, segregating staff, physicians, and conversations.   

I know the walls of my office are very important.   As I learn more about containers, I reflect on how we might create a container within these walls that is more supportive of the well-being of my partners and my patients. While I am not able to reconfigure our office space, I can have more conversations with my partners.  I can find out if they are experiencing the same thing and we can work together to determine what we can do to alleviate the issue and reduce isolation.  These ideas would include ways to change the container.  

Becoming aware that my container at work has gotten smaller has made me realize that I need to ensure my containers outside my work environment are nurturing, supportive, and life-enhancing. One of my favorite containers is my dining room table.  Surrounded by family, friends, and good food, it is a place where we linger long after everyone is done eating, talking about life and things that are important to each other. My goal is to create more containers like this, bringing more fulfillment into my life. Finally, I hope my words will help other fellow physicians pay attention to containers that they work and live in and reflect on how they can grow or improve.

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The Columbus Medical Association and Affiliates have many ways for you to expand your “containers,” check them out here.