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The Calling

Damian McHugh reflects on recent interactions with physicians and shares a personal message of thanks ahead of National Doctor's Day in 2024.

I became a member of LinkedIn a few months ago – my first-ever cautious foray into the realm of social media. I use it mainly to listen to what doctors are talking about – the pressures of our vocation, the escalating challenges of running a business, the ever-increasing time needed for compliance within various spheres of our profession (licensing, credentialing, maintenance of specialty certification, etc.). And it beckons me to remember that, underneath it all, there remains a greater purpose that drives us, that makes it all worthwhile – the calling to be a Doctor.  

A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that the sacrifices that once brought physicians spiritual fulfillment have increasingly been replaced by a sense that we’re simply cogs in a wheel. I hear this same concern daily.  

And yet, I’ve also had several experiences recently that have brought me back to our greater purpose.  

On New Year’s Eve, my wife and I had dinner with a teenager and his parents. Years ago, my team in the Emergency Department had stabilized him as a premature baby and transferred his care.  He overcame that illness, grew up, and now is keen to pursue an exciting career. Breaking bread with him and his parents, having not seen them for over a decade, was a priceless reminder of the joy and fulfillment of being a physician. Their annual holiday cards are retained in my personal file of patient letters and notes – my greatest joy from my time as a clinician. 

In the last month, I was also sharing in the educational experience of a large group of OBGYNs at their annual meeting. Brooke Shields, an actress my age and a close friend of one of the group’s leaders, held a fireside chat over dinner. She shared openly that as a famous model and actress, once her kids had left home, she was startlingly unaware of her purpose. She pointed out that the physicians and medical staff in the room were the real heroes, not the Hollywood idols or America’s sporting icons.  

And finally, I recently ate with a dedicated young colleague, trained in Emergency Medicine and intensive care. As he and I chatted, he simply stated, “I love what I do, and I know why I do it.” 

I’m impressed by the generation of younger physicians who are tech savvy, capably blending their phones into their daily roles, while being much more aware of the need for balance between their work life and their home life. Identity, self-worth, and the priority of achieving joy seem to be more pronounced for these younger colleagues. They still value the richly rewarding experiences that come from firsthand delivery of personalized quality patient care. 

Despite the considerable headwinds they face, I take heart in the fact that physicians do retain a sense of meaning and reward that few other professions can achieve. 

Looking ahead to National Doctors Day this March 30th, all I feel I can do is acknowledge the legion of challenges, minefields, and frustrations that accompany the practice of medicine in 2024. I wish it were different – we understand when it is not.  

From all of us at Curi, please accept our thanks and admiration for all that you do each day for your families, your communities, and your patients. We are proud and deeply honored that so many of you have chosen to partner with us, and we resolve to remain at-the-ready when you need us the most. 

I’m here and welcome your thoughts, challenges, and reflections on what keeps you grounded in your calling every day. Please reach out to me at any time at or connect with me on LinkedIn at