emDOCs Wellness: Loss, Gratitude and Wellness

Author: Jennifer Robertson, MD, MSEd (Assistant Professor in Emergency Medicine / Department of Emergency Medicine – Emory University) // Edited by: Manpreet Singh, MD (@MPrizzleER – Assistant Professor in Emergency Medicine / Department of Emergency Medicine – Harbor-UCLA Medical Center)

What does loss have to do with physician wellness? Well, on the surface, not much. Losing a parent, a loved one, a friend, a job, or even your dog is painful.  Unless you are an extremely lucky person, we all go through loss. However, despite this reality, we usually feel we are the only ones. Social media doesn’t help either. Online pictures of your friends who are living perfect lives only makes the pain of loss worse.

But maybe loss has a purpose.

I lost my grandmother this past year. She was 97 and had a good life, but her time came.  She contributed much to this earth, and her gifts will live on. I am grateful.

I lost my father this past year due to illness.  My personal grief has been tremendous. But he was ill and suffering. He is in a better place now, and I am grateful.

I have lost several other friends and family through the years, but I am grateful for the time I spent with them and the lessons I learned.

Loss has made me realize that there are more important things in life than professional conquests, money, competition, anger, and “one upping” others. We are all human and imperfect. While perfection is valued in the medical world, I have realized that perfection simply is not possible. Life is messy. As physicians, we have succeeded in many areas and we have learned to expect perfection both personally and professionally. But perfection is not reality. Loss has taught me this extremely important lesson.

Because of the loss of the most important people in my life, I have realized that the superficial things just don’t count. However, people DO count. Relationships count. Savor the time you have with your precious families and friends now, because life is too short. Be grateful for the loving people in your lives and savor the time you spend with them. Of course, always do your best at your profession. But always remember and cherish the truly valuable things in life.

I think gratitude for the good times is incredibly important. Studies have even shown that gratitude reduces levels of depression and enhances well-being (1, 2). While we should all be grateful for things such as our own personal health and careers, I also think that loss teaches you to be grateful. And with gratitude, we can then truly be happy and at peace.

So go forth, save lives, be grateful for your loved ones and happy times, and be well.


  1. Petrocchi N, Couyoumdjian A. The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self Identity 2016;15(2):191-205.
  2. Wood AM, Joseph S, Maltby J. Gratitude predicts psychological well-being above the Big Five facets. Pers Individ Dif 2009;46(4):443-7.

One thought on “emDOCs Wellness: Loss, Gratitude and Wellness”

  1. Thank you for reminding us what is truly important. Great message for all. Gratitude helps us appreciate all that is good. There is so much negativity in the world.
    Also, remembering “…… perfection is not reality.” And yes, “To Err is Human.” A message for another article.

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