As I turned the last page of my text book “Your brain at work” by David Rock, I settled into my litany of thoughts of how my daily work at a hospital impacts my decisions. The book discusses how we can efficiently train our pre-frontal cortex in the brain to achieve maximum efficiency at work. I asked myself “How different would my career choices have been if I were not working in a hospital system like OHSU?” OHSU is academic health care system which has a hospital, a dedicated children’s hospital, research institutes, medical school, nursing school and dentistry school and a joint public health school (with Portland State University). It is a complex system which embodies different disciplines of health care.
How does a conscious mind define a job? It is a means by which one imparts the acquired education to the benefit of society and in the process stabilizes a source of income for the daily requirements. How does the sub-conscious mind perceive it? Do we ever realize how much our job changes us from within? Working in a hospital definitely does. It teaches one the art of loving life and appreciating the beauty associated with it. It teaches us empathy. It makes us less complacent. A research study conducted by Dr. Tania Singer at Max Planck Institute in Germany shows that the innate nature of human beings is being egocentric but there is a part in the human brain that autocorrects this characteristic. This part of the brain is called right supramarginal gyrus, a part of the cerebral cortex which plays a role in counteracting the egocentric nature of human being by deviating it from a tendency for self-centered perceptions of another’s pain, suffering or discomfort. This region of the brain segregates our perceptions from others. In the study, disruption of neurons in this area of the brain showed the participants to be no longer projecting their own feelings onto others. Since empathy is an acquired skill and the neural circuitry a malleable palette, we can train our brains to be more empathetic. Working in a hospital gives us that opportunity. Our day-to-day life is dealing with patients, patient samples, patient reports and in the process we somehow become a part of their roller coaster ride of joy, sorrow and anticipation.
In the whole process, we learn to appreciate our own lives much more. We realize the fact that life is a gift. We learn to complain less about what we do not have and value what we have been blessed with. It teaches us that a regular, day-to-day uneventful life is actually a blessing as you still get to dress up for your office, work, go home and cook and spend time with your family. We learn to not take things for granted and savor every fruit of labor than devaluing it as a passing thought.
We can utilize this experience of working in a hospital as a platform for building skills of compassion, empathy, meditation and attaining peace within. Research studies show that practicing these skills can change the way our brain perceives pain and suffering. When functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was conducted on people who had undergone compassion training, physical changes in the brain structure were noticed.
Our daily job gives us a chance to become better human beings and we all can identify these opportunities and learn to be more thankful and appreciative of what has been bestowed upon us. We learn to look beyond and reason out compassionately the crankiness of a child, annoying habits of a spouse, unfamiliarity-with-latest-technology of an old parent, irritating habits of a neighbor or colleague and thus we acquire the art of loving and compassion.
Let us use our daily job to train our sub conscious mind to gain peace and stability within ourselves.