Stop Physician Burnout - What to do when a patient says thank you

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

To prevent physician burnout, you must manage your three internal Energy Banks

A Thank You from a patient or family member can top up all three accounts, but ONLY if you know what to do and say in that moment.

"Thank You" is like rocket fuel because it provides an instant infusion of Spiritual Energy, reconnecting you with the purpose in your practice.

Unfortunately, most doctors deflect thank yous and miss this golden opportunity to prevent burnout.

This is another lesson we never received in Med School, Residency or Fellowship - How to RECIEVE a Thank You with Elegance and Grace.

This is Part 3 of 3 in our Series on Physician Energy Management. Here are the first two:
Part 1 - Physician energy has nothing to do with batteries being run down
Part 2 - Physician's 3 Energy Banks

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Stop physician burnout and thank you

The Thank You Connection to Spirit

Spirit in your practice is your connection to PURPOSE. You must have reminders you are making a difference and serving a purpose regularly or your Spiritual Energy Bank becomes drained. At that point, the little voice in your head might start whispering, "What's the use."

That little voice phrase, "What's the use. I'm really not making a difference or serving a purpose here," is actually the third symptom of burnout.

Here's how I discovered the Thank You connection to Spirit.

It was by accident, early in my physician coaching practice. I was looking for a way to help doctors remember what they enjoy about seeing patients

I asked hundreds of my physician clients:

"Tell me about your last Ideal Patient Visit"

You know the one...

That special interaction, during an otherwise busy day, that lights you up. Where, at the end of the day, you said to yourself,

"oh yeah, that's why I became a doctor in the first place," with a little fist pump.

Or when you get home, you say, "Honey, sit down, I have to tell you what happened at work today."

About ten doctors into this inquiry, a pattern began to emerge that has held true to this day - across hundreds of doctors. 

97% of the time that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment comes from two words the patient, or a family member, said to you.
Those two magic words are ...




This means that "Thank You" marks a HOLY MOMENT in any physician's  pr

A wave of Spiritual Energy is coming at you
to reconnect you with your purpose
and help you remember
why you chose to go to medical school in the first place 


You don't let the Whirlwind of Your Practice Day get in the way.


The truth is, most physicians miss the power of Thank You in the moment

It is a small piece of an otherwise busy day at work. They miss the incredible spiritual energy infusion and reconnection to purpose, sitting right in front of them.

Let me show you what to do when a patient says "thank you" to get the most recharge possible out of these two Magic Words.

A new way of connecting with the grace and elegance and meaning and purpose of your practice rather than losing that connection in the task overwhelm of  your busy practice day.

  • Step-by-Step instructions are below
  • The whole process takes less than a minute

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Unfortunately, most doctors miss the critical importance of these brief moments.

When a patient says thank you - no matter how rare an occasion this is in your practice - it is an opportunity for you to do two fundamental things:

1) Reconnect you with your purpose and sense of fulfillment in your practice and simultaneously inject energy to all three of your energetic bank accounts.

This infusion of energy is so powerful I call it the "triple whammy". This one interaction injects a bolus of energy into your physical, emotional and spiritual accounts simultaneously. The surplus can power you for weeks at a time.

2) Give the patient and their caregivers the opportunity to connect with you in a whole new way.

If you don't take advantage of these brief moments of gratitude, they are quickly swallowed up by the pile of tasks in your practice day - and the opportunity is lost.

Here's how it usually goes.

You're distracted and perhaps a little surprised at the open expression of thanks. You are 20 minutes behind schedule with your hand on the doorknob, maybe even looking back over your shoulder at them.

You say something like, "you're welcome, just doing my job" ... and hurry on to the next patient.

This magic moment passes and everyone feels like something was missed.

Let me show you a different way to accept their gratitude and express YOUR own thanks that can make all the difference when these precious moments arise.


Before I give you the steps ...
Let's take a second to look at the patient's perspective of their attempt to thank you.
Put yourself in their shoes.

Have you ever had a wonderful encounter with a service person at a restaurant, or a hotel or during a purchase? They did an outstanding job. You want to thank them and let them know how grateful you are.

But when you say thank you - it doesn't seem to land. They don't take a moment to let it soak in and say, "you're welcome". How does that make you feel?

Your patients feel the same way - when their thank you doesn't land with you.

You did something very important for them or a family member. They are grateful. They want to say thank you and see you take it all in, feel it, savor it and see you understand their gratitude.

patient communication patient says thank you prevent physician burnout optWhat to do when a patient says "Thank You"

Next time one of your patients or a family member says "Thank You", try this…

1) Recognize what's happening.
You did a good job. The patient recognizes the difference you have made in their life. Maybe you actually saved their life or the life of a loved onethis time.

They are truly grateful. They want to say "thank you" and even more important, they want to see their Thank You land in heart.

We all know how rare this occasion is in most practices. This is a holy moment in your calling to be a helper and a healer. A moment when both of you can connect on a deeper level of humanity than just "doing your job".

Empty your hands.
Turn to face them squarely - feet shoulder width apart, hands at your sides with palms forward.
Look them in the eye.

3) Say, "Can you say that again"
You may feel this is a strange request. Your patient will not. They will gladly say it again, just to see their thank you land properly. If you are a little shy about asking this question, I challenge you to do it anyway and watch what happens. 

3) Slow down. Take a deep breath.
Allow their gratitude and acknowledgment for your care to soak in to your body – in all the right places just the right amounts. (as if you are a GIANT Love Sponge). Breathe it in, notice how it feels, smile just a little bit. Then take another breath and ...

4) Tell them "you're welcome" in whatever way feels authentic for you. Come from your heart and not from your head.

Here's a potential example:

"You're so welcome Mavis. Taking care of you and your mom reminds me of why I became a doctor in the first place. I am so glad you're feeling better. Now get out of my office and I hope I do not see you again until our next appointment ;-)"

5) If you use a journal, I strongly encourage you to write about this experience later on that day.

Sample Journal Questions:
- What did you do to cause this outpouring of gratitude?
- How did it feel?
- What did it remind you of?
- What surprised you about the energy shift when you asked them to say it again?
- When you are on the lookout for thank yous - rather than just trying to stay on schedule - are they more or less frequent than you thought?

6) Take It Further

Teach every member of your care team to do this too. You are not the only one who gets patient and family thank yous. Everyone can soak up more of this purpose affirming energy if they follow the steps above.


When you accept gratitude in this fashion, you will notice that it provides you a burst of energy and fulfillment for days afterwards.

Energetic deposits from interactions like this are what prevent burnout. Don't miss these opportunities.

Most doctors also say this spirit energy recharge actually fills all three energy banks. 

On a day when a patient says thank you, my clients consistently report feeling:

  • More Physical Energy, stamina and resilience
  • More Emotional Energy, empathy and connectedness


And if you have to search weeks, or months, or years to remember a fulfilling patient encounter like this, it's high time to look at what you really want in your practice and start moving in that direction. Build your Ideal Job Description and begin to make small changes in your day now.

You can have the same effect on your team, with the same two words!

You expressing gratitude to members of your team - is just as powerful for them.
When they do a good job, look them in the eye and say a clean authentic, "Thank You". 

They will love it too.

You can build a deeper connection with everyone in your office or hospital, just by thanking them for the hard work they do on behalf of you and your patients. I encourage you to make this a regular habit.





What and when was your last truly fulfilling patient encounter?
We would love to hear your story.

Tags: Physician Burnout, physician patient communication