Unique Antidote to Burnout: A Trip to the DMV

September 22, 2016
Andrea L. Brand, MD
Andrea L. Brand, MD

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.


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.