Unique Antidote to Burnout: A Trip to the DMV

September 22, 2016

One clinician's encounter with kindness at the department of motor vehicles was just the Rx for burnout that day.

I suspect most of have felt it at some point: exhausted at day’s end, less than thrilled at the prospect of returning the next day, forgetful of the sound of laughter at work- symptoms of burnout creeping into our lives.

I’ll admit I’ve felt it more than once, but I never thought a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would re-energize me with the joy of practicing medicine. Here’s the story:

It was time to renew my driver’s license. Since my state had developed a new “star license” (verified identity, citizenship and address) since my last renewal, I had to appear in person with multiple documents, including proofs of identity, social security registration, and residence. Fortunately, I could make an appointment online, although the fist open appointment was about a month out.

My 9 AM appointment made and hoping to avoid the lines I have associated with DMV visits in the past, I arrived at the DMV promptly at 8:40 AM. Three others arrived before the electronic door opened at 9 sharp. The clerk greeted us at the doorway and asked if anyone had an appointment. My hand went up, and I was shown to the desk to take a number, and handed a coupon for a free car wash -- a reward for booking an appointment online.

I heard my number over the speaker almost immediately, and sat opposite the interviewer, who asked if I had been convicted for driving while intoxicated and if I had answered all questions honestly ("No" and "Yes," respectively).

I presented my documents: passport, social security card, voter ID card, and insurance bill with my address. After the vision test, we were ready for the last part: payment.

“Sixty-one dollars and twenty-five cents. We take cash, check, or debit card," said my friendly interviewer.

“No credit cards?” I asked sheepishly as I realized the clerk who had greeted us had stated the same policy, but somehow it had not registered in my brain.

“No.”

I do not own a debit card, and my checkbook was at home, safe and sound.

I pulled out my old black wallet in hopes of finding the needed cash (unlikely, since I pay for almost everything with a credit card). Thinking my emergency cash might save me, I discovered two twenty dollar bills, a five and a one. Forty six total so far. Stashed behind Visa and Mastercards in my little red credit card wallet, I found two fives and a one. A quarter, a dime, and a penny occupied a change slot.

“You’re getting there,” she piped up encouragingly.

But that was it- I was about 4 dollars short.

“What if call my husband? He can come with the money,” I offered.

“We can’t do that. You’ll have to come back."

Just as I started to sit back in my chair to absorb the bad news, I saw a ten dollar bill appear in front of my eyes and heard a voice saying, “How much do you need?”

I turned to my left to see a young woman dressed in scrubs. She was one of the four of us at the door before 9. She didn’t have an appointment.

“Oh, wow, thank you.” I was overcome by her kindness. We counted all the money, and I was six dollars and 11 cents over the magic number.

I handed the cash to the interviewer, who processed my license.

I walked over to the young woman in scrubs, introduced myself, told her where I worked and to contact me if she ever needed anything. Handing her the six dollars and change, I told her I would send her the rest, but she said it was OK.

“I’m Jessica.”

“Thank you so much.”

After collecting my license, I saw her again in the parking lot.

“Jessica, can I buy you coffee, a bagel?”

“No, that’s OK. Pay it forward to someone else.”

Creeping symptoms of burnout left me after that. I went to work happier, thankful for a chance to help people and share a laugh.

Thanks, Jessica. I owe you a lot more than four dollars.

 

Do you have an example of a random act of kindness paid to you that shifted your perspective, even for a day? We'd love to hear it.