Dr Tom Mulholland's Exceptional Story

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Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emergency Department physician at Auckland Hospital, an honorary lecturer in psychological medicine at Auckland Clinical School and founder of the Healthy Thinking Institute.

Dr Tom is on a mission trying to make New Zealand and eventually the World, happier and healthier. He believes doctors are a big part of that project because “sometimes we’re the most miserable and unhealthy people that you’d meet”. 

A big part of Dr Tom’s focus is on ‘Healthy Thinking’ and how to diagnose and treat what he calls ‘attitude illness’. Dr Tom describes attitude illness as a model where people have a bad attitude and they drag everyone down, almost “like a cancer or like a virus’. In short, unhealthy thinking causes unhealthy emotion and attitudes which can cause unhealthy behaviour. Amongst doctors a lot of this unhealthy thinking is caused by stress and unfortunately the resulting behaviour can have dire consequences for both the doctor and the patient.

But for Dr Tom a key question to ask before you can say how we’re going to treat it is; what’s causing it? There’s obviously a number of major reasons why doctors get stressed but Tom thinks one of the most obvious ones is the hours doctors work. For example Dr Tom worked in a rural hospital recently where they were expecting him to work 33 hours in a row. “This effected physically on me, I’ve put on weight, you’re making cortisol, you’re hungry, and I wasn’t exercising. I’m a really positive guy but I got miserable and got grumpy and I know I made some mistakes. What patients want to see a doctor who’s been awake for 33 hours in a row?”

Another cause Dr Tom thinks is doctors own expectations of what they think being a doctor involves, but not expecting other things that come along with the job like working weekends as well as dealing with each other’s attitudes.

If a doctor is in a stressful situation, working in an emergency department for example, Dr Tom has some tools that he uses to make a relatively rapid shift in how he’s thinking so that he can get himself back to a state where he is performing well. First thing he does is what he calls a ’hardware’ check; “Have I had enough sleep? Have I had enough nutrition? Have I had enough exercise? Have I had dark chocolate? Have I been surfing? Do I like where I am?”  

If the answer to the questions are all yes, he then does a ‘software check’ and sorts through what thought it is that’s driving him to feel this way, because thoughts drive attitude and these drive behaviour. He then questions the validity of that thought and this essentially changes how he’s thinking too: what else could this mean? From this exercise Dr Tom wants  to find a meaning that puts him in a good state because that’s probably the most important thing in terms of how he’s going to show up that day.

Dr Tom believes that reconnecting with your sense of purpose is also essential in helping change your attitude. When you ask a doctor “Why did you become a doctor in the first place?” the answer is nine times out of ten because they like helping people.

“I think we forget that when we go to work we’re there to help people. And I think if you can change your attitude and your mind set to that then you come away from a shift going, “That was awesome. I had such a good shift.” The only thing I’ve changed is my attitude and thinking processes, and have gone from having one of the most stressful shifts I can have to one of the best.. You can change your department just by being a happy chipper person, not the miserable one that’s throwing mud or moaning and whinging.”

This interview between Dr Tom Mulholland and Sam Hazledine is part of a series of talks with exceptional doctors. Listen to the full interview here and we’ve also highlighted key topics for doctors from Tom and Sam’s conversation here.

Tom_Mulholland.png

Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emergency Department physician at Auckland Hospital, an honorary lecturer in psychological medicine at Auckland Clinical School and founder of the Healthy Thinking Institute.

Dr Tom is on a mission trying to make New Zealand and eventually the World, happier and healthier. He believes doctors are a big part of that project because “sometimes we’re the most miserable and unhealthy people that you’d meet”. 

A big part of Dr Tom’s focus is on ‘Healthy Thinking’ and how to diagnose and treat what he calls ‘attitude illness’. Dr Tom describes attitude illness as a model where people have a bad attitude and they drag everyone down, almost “like a cancer or like a virus’. In short, unhealthy thinking causes unhealthy emotion and attitudes which can cause unhealthy behaviour. Amongst doctors a lot of this unhealthy thinking is caused by stress and unfortunately the resulting behaviour can have dire consequences for both the doctor and the patient.

But for Dr Tom a key question to ask before you can say how we’re going to treat it is; what’s causing it? There’s obviously a number of major reasons why doctors get stressed but Tom thinks one of the most obvious ones is the hours doctors work. For example Dr Tom worked in a rural hospital recently where they were expecting him to work 33 hours in a row. “This effected physically on me, I’ve put on weight, you’re making cortisol, you’re hungry, and I wasn’t exercising. I’m a really positive guy but I got miserable and got grumpy and I know I made some mistakes. What patients want to see a doctor who’s been awake for 33 hours in a row?”

Another cause Dr Tom thinks is doctors own expectations of what they think being a doctor involves, but not expecting other things that come along with the job like working weekends as well as dealing with each other’s attitudes.

If a doctor is in a stressful situation, working in an emergency department for example, Dr Tom has some tools that he uses to make a relatively rapid shift in how he’s thinking so that he can get himself back to a state where he is performing well. First thing he does is what he calls a ’hardware’ check; “Have I had enough sleep? Have I had enough nutrition? Have I had enough exercise? Have I had dark chocolate? Have I been surfing? Do I like where I am?”  

If the answer to the questions are all yes, he then does a ‘software check’ and sorts through what thought it is that’s driving him to feel this way, because thoughts drive attitude and these drive behaviour. He then questions the validity of that thought and this essentially changes how he’s thinking too: what else could this mean? From this exercise Dr Tom wants  to find a meaning that puts him in a good state because that’s probably the most important thing in terms of how he’s going to show up that day.

Dr Tom believes that reconnecting with your sense of purpose is also essential in helping change your attitude. When you ask a doctor “Why did you become a doctor in the first place?” the answer is nine times out of ten because they like helping people.

“I think we forget that when we go to work we’re there to help people. And I think if you can change your attitude and your mind set to that then you come away from a shift going, “That was awesome. I had such a good shift.” The only thing I’ve changed is my attitude and thinking processes, and have gone from having one of the most stressful shifts I can have to one of the best.. You can change your department just by being a happy chipper person, not the miserable one that’s throwing mud or moaning and whinging.”

This interview between Dr Tom Mulholland and Sam Hazledine is part of a series of talks with exceptional doctors. Listen to the full interview here and we’ve also highlighted key topics for doctors from Tom and Sam’s conversation here.

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