From Warrior to Wise Man: Former Coast Guard Reflecting on the Healthcare Workplace

Walter speaks slowly and always thinks before he opens his mouth. I would not have guessed he used to be a soldier. He seems more like a philosopher. He has suggested books for me that have helped me make some sort of sense of what is happening in the world today.

He is part of my team and I find him a great asset. He is a calming influence on my patients and never seems to make snap judgements, which is how I pictured people in the armed services had to function.

Tonight we were talking about my latest article about burnout. Walter surprised me again about his Coast Guard experience. They have policies and officers focusing on work-life balance. As far as I can see, healthcare does not. But in many ways we are similar organizations. We have some fancy equipment but our most important resource is our human capital, specially trained to work under stressful conditions in keeping their fellow human beings safe from harm.

Walter explained that the Coast Guard is ready to step in to prevent burnout and undue stress, to protect their workforce from overextending. I found this striking, to borrow a military term. The armed services are prepared for crises and disasters but make it a priority to consider what their staff can handle. And not every day is a crisis. But in medicine, we sometimes feel that every day is a crisis.

There are more tasks/messages/results and refills than there is slack in our patient schedules to carry out. Our patients have more concerns than our allotted appointment times can give justice to. For many of us, the constant backlog is a major burnout factor.

I have read the Coast Guard’s 2017-2022 Strategic Plan for their Health, Safety and Work-Life Directorate. It may be just a bunch of words, but I haven’t seen anything like it in my line of work.

Maybe there should be something like this for the nation’s healthcare workforce?

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3 Responses to “From Warrior to Wise Man: Former Coast Guard Reflecting on the Healthcare Workplace”


  1. 1 Peter Panken October 16, 2022 at 7:37 am

    ‘Healthcare’ system is often for profit, coast guard is not

  2. 2 lathomasmd October 16, 2022 at 3:00 pm

    My father was an Air Force pilot in the Viet Nam war. I was shocked to hear how routine and stable his work schedule was, *in a war. *No overtime, it was against the rules. No “call.” Mandatory crew rest between work shifts. Pretty cushy compared to civilian medicine. In peacetime.

  3. 3 msdonnarl October 17, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    “Navy Brat” here. Dad spoke of mandatory rest time for his sailors. Not so much for officers, but he said a good senior officer made sure his ensigns and lieutenants rested.
    “A tired junior officer makes silly mistakes and gets his (yes, his) Captain in trouble,” he said.
    I found this attitude did not follow me into the business world, where working employees to and past human limits was the norm.
    Maybe this is why there is the “Great Resignation” the pundits are worried about.


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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.

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