Biography: Kelly is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
February 28, 2020
4 min read

BLOG: Take ownership of your energy

Biography: Kelly is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
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by John D. Kelly IV, MD

As the burnout epidemic shows no signs of decline, each of us need to take stock of the energy ebbs and flows in our lives. Emotional exhaustion is more about energy management than time management.

When we are at the continual “beck and call” of others, we can easily succumb to energy depletion. To sidestep burnout, each of us are obliged to take an honest look at all the energy realms in our lives and take responsibility for managing them.


Do you surround yourself with positive friends? Do they lift you up or are they critical and steeped in cynicism? Emotions are contagious and what others are spreading around will affect you.

A good friend used to have a jogging partner who was a contagion of negativity. Their early morning runs together were accompanied by a continuous negative commentary about the pitfalls of life and all that was wrong with others. Instead of feeling refreshed and invigorated after a run, my friend would go to work depleted and often demoralized.

Solution: He chose another running partner.

Choose your friends wisely and surround yourself with those that affirm and lift you.


Rest is critically important to our well-being, but replenishment of our soul is equally necessary to maintain resiliency. Getting at least 7 hours of restful sleep has been linked to increased longevity, decreased risks of dementia and diabetes and lessened inflammation. However, rest is not the same as emotional replenishment. All of us need regular doses of fun and joy to maintain emotional well-being.

Do you feed your soul with a hobby that is remote from medicine? I like to sketch, and I enjoy time on the piano. Stand-up comedy is another of my hobbies. While I will never claim to be the next Jerry Seinfeld, when on stage, medicine is the furthest thing from my mind. I am determined to devote more time to these pursuits because I always feel better after them.

Engage in a soul-restoring hobby on a regular basis. You will be more productive in the long term.

Focus of practice

Are there surgeries you are not fond of? Do you find yourself continually “taking one for the team” and finding yourself immersed in a case in which you have no profound interest?

I love shoulder surgery and years ago, I relinquished my knee arthroplasty practice because a small portion of my case volume was responsible for most of my stress. Now, I do more cases that I truly love. It is easier to develop mastery and become highly effective in things that bring us joy. You may see a dip in surgical volume initially when you choose to follow your bliss, but the long-term dividends are incalculable.

Declare to your partners and the world what aspect of orthopedic surgery holds your passion. You and your patients will benefit.

Hard ‘no’ and slow ‘yes’

Before you commit to an activity, ask yourself, “Will this bring me joy of fulfillment?”

If you fear disapproval from others, saying “yes” will not bring you joy. If the given activity is simply another “should,” then you are risking emotional depletion.

When we align our actions with a higher purpose and service, energy will manifest. If our decisions are ego driven or are purely selfish, burnout risk increases.

We must always have a bigger “yes” inside of us to override a “no.” A “yes” to family will supersede a “no” to an invitation to speak at a local medical society. Practice the hard “no” when invitations conflict with your deepest values and the slow “yes” if the obligation deserves consideration.

Own what you feed your brain

We are engaged in the hyperstimulation era, where many of us feel eviscerated when we do not have access to our iPhones. Overstimulation of our nervous systems with electronic media barrage can lead to poor sleep and poor coping skills. What is stimulating is not necessarily kind to our well-being.

We all have a choice as to what to feed our brains: We can deluge our neural circuits with daily news and learn of the latest violent crime or we can read fine literature. We can listen to talk radio and learn of the hate liberals and conservatives have for each other or we can tune into the comedy station.

We can overwhelm our neurons with orthopedic journals on our nightstand or we can end our days with an uplifting spiritual text. We can become “lived” by whatever is on TV or we can spend 20 minutes of uninterrupted time with our spouse or partner and nourish the most important relationship we have on this earth. We can call a friend and fume and fret over current events or we can pet a yellow Labrador for 10 minutes.

It is time for each and every one of us to reclaim our lives and create boundaries on energy syphons in our lives. Lower stress increases brain function and enhances recall and affords us to be our best selves to our patients and loved ones.

Abandon any semblance of victim mentality and own the energy flows in your life.

Do you feel energized to change?



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