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Reconnecting with Meaning and Purpose: Relationships

Seeking ways to enhance well-being and resilience is an ongoing endeavor. This is the first in a four-part blog series about reconnecting with what is important in our lives and careers. The series focuses on medical school experience and refers to a program called RealMD as a backdrop for reflection, but the principles discussed apply anywhere.

Take a moment. Check in with yourself about your relationships. When did you last reconnect with an old friend? When was the last time you went on a social outing with a colleague?

In conversations with the physicians, staff, and students at University of Utah Health, a common theme emerged: people feel disconnected. It’s no surprise that feelings of isolation have increased during the pandemic. We all experience a greater sense of being busy. We often find ourselves in “survival” mode.

During these times, what most needs our attention? How is our energy? What gets overlooked? Relationships.

Relationships are among the most crucial aspects of personal well-being. Creating meaningful connections and belonging to a community helps counteract feelings of isolation. But in the daily grind of the “new normal,” we sometimes overlook relationships, which takes a toll on us.

The Most Important Things Are Not on the Test

For many physicians, the first major challenges of balancing professional demands and relationships occurs during medical school. At the University of Utah, we rely on a program called RealMD to reinforce important aspects of life that are not “on the test,” so to speak.

“Real” stands for Relationships, Excellence, Authenticity, and Leadership. Each of these qualities has a major impact on students’ future career fulfillment.  

In a medical school, people need to feel known and cared for by their professional community. By showing up with compassion and courage and thinking of success as something we achieve together, we find more meaning in our education and careers.

Stories Reinforce the Importance of Relationships

John Ryan, MD, Hank Shipman, Sadi Robinson
RealMD student facilitators Hank Shipman and Sadie Robinson with John Ryan, MD, 
(middle) holding his medical school "notes." In addiiton to studying, Ryan challenges
students to invest heavily in creating meaningful professional relationships during
medical school.

Each month, RealMD hosts workshops geared toward helping students think about career fulfillment by finding and maintaining their purpose in medicine. Building a community is the first step. Several faculty members have presented in these workshops about the value of relationships.

John Ryan, MD, relied on mentors as he navigated the ups and downs of specialty exploration during medical school. He highlighted the value of finding mentors who act as coaches or sponsors and are willing to lead and advocate on a deeper level.

“Finding a mentor is like finding a life partner,” Ryan says. “You will meet a lot of people along the way who are not the right fit or who are ‘just not that into you.’ But when you find someone with shared interests who will push you and advocate for you, that is when you know that you have found the right person to mentor you.”

For Ryan, forging strong relationships with coaches made a permanent and positive change in his career. Now he serves as a mentor to many students. 

Megan Fix, MD, U of U Health
Megan Fix, MD, (in Halloween garb) explains the dangers of isolating oneself and
eating Ramen noodles

Megan Fix, MD, recalls how authentic relationships have benefited her career and mental health. She refers to them as “filling her cup” and describes the feeling of connection as energy she gets from passionate people in her professional and personal life. For Fix, relationships have opened doors to new professional opportunities.

Making connections with colleagues, family, and friends has also been critical during Fix’s mental health struggles. In a recent RealMD podcast she said, “In medicine and in life, we need each other to help us get through the hard times, to lift us up when we are struggling.” Her relationships make Fix a better physician and bring her the energy she needs to do her job well and enjoy life.

Take Responsibility to Make Room for Relationships

In our busy lives, relationships matter. We must make time to be with family, friends, and colleagues. Your doctor is unlikely to tell you to stop working and go see your friends. It is up to you to nurture your own relationships.

The next blog in this series will continue exploring the RealMD framework and talk about Excellence. What does it really mean to be excellent?


Tom Hurtado, EdD

Tom Hurtado is the Senior Director of Student Affairs and Professional Development at the University of Utah Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. Hurtado helped to develop RealMD, a ground-breaking professional identity development program for medical students. He also hosts the RealMD podcast for students, faculty, and staff to talk about meaning and purpose. Hurtado received a doctoral degree in Organizational Change and Leadership at the University of Southern California.


Tony Tsai

Tony Tsai is the director of Leadership and Career Development for University of Utah Health. Tsai helps people connect to the meaning and authentic purpose in their careers through innovative, practical programming and coaching. In previous roles, he led strategic transformation efforts in medical education. He formerly served as head of career advising at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and as an officer in the U.S. Army. Tsai received an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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