For too long, the healthcare industry has viewed physical health as the sole indicator of a person's overall well-being. However, seasoned cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Fisher is challenging this traditional approach by emphasizing the importance of emotional and mental health to achieve holistic well-being. Drawing from his experience with burnout, anxiety, and depression — which profoundly impacted his physical health — Dr. Fisher's work is helping redefine healthcare by addressing the needs and concerns of the whole person — mind, body, and spirit.
Dr. Fisher is the seventh and youngest child born to a family of doctors, with his father continuing to practice medicine even at the age of 96 (2023) and his mother, a physicist. Fisher said, "It's always been a part of our family's mission and interest to see how we can help other people, especially people who are struggling or suffering. And that's how I got started."
When Fisher began his career in healthcare, he had a vision of positively impacting people's lives. He was eager to use his knowledge and skills to make a difference for those who needed it most. However, Fisher quickly realized that the industry, intended to heal and care for others, was ironically and overwhelmingly toxic to well-being and less focused on caring for others as much as it was hardcore data and the bottom line.
Nothing he learned in medical school prepared him for how to cope with the death of a patient. And following the tragic passing of his best friend and sister at 44, Fisher realized something had to give.
It became clear that he was in the dark when it came to how to heal and cope with his strong feelings and emotions. He shares, "I didn't know what to call them [feelings]. I realized I had a lot of work to do, and part of that work was learning the language of emotions and that I was an emotional person. And even though I was a nerdy chess player, I was also this very sensitive person who often would feel scared, ashamed, afraid, hesitant, frustrated, or overwhelmed."
Fisher's experience is common, especially among individuals in academic settings or professions where they are actively steered away from acknowledging anything that may appear irrational or subjective.
"I'm just learning to speak in a new way that is much more intuitive and natural for me. But in a way, I was taught not to speak from the heart and not to use emotions. … there's a whole culture that says, 'don't talk from your heart, don't share what's on your heart, just stick to the facts and the data.' And I think we're realizing now, as we see healthcare systems and other industries falling apart, in some cases, that we have to make business more humane. And in particular, we have to make healing more humane. I think both [data and intangibles like emotions and intuition] have a role.
After over 20 years in medicine, I have been taking a slight bend and realizing that a lot of what I was taught in medical school was lacking in terms of treating the whole person. … we get so siloed and fractured, and it really goes against the basic principles of healing, which is how can we take a very broad view of this beautiful thing, the human body and the human mind, and understand how they're connected. ... anybody who's helping emotional well-being is also supporting physical well-being and vice versa. So, it's an exciting time to be in this conversation.
Part of my work and my mission, in addition to taking care of patients with heart disease or people who don't want to ever get heart disease [prevention], is to help those in healthcare and beyond really understand the connection between our emotional experience and well-being, and our overall sense of health and happiness."
For over eight years, Dr. Fisher has been a strong advocate and practitioner of holistic healthcare, pioneering mindful leadership and well-being practices at Novant Health. In addition, he has designed training programs for regional cardiology managers and division leaders to help them better understand the connection between physical health and mental wellness, thus earning him the moniker "the mindful heart doctor."
Following the 2020 pandemic, Fisher became more dedicated than ever to his mission of spreading the practice and knowledge around mindfulness and self-care among healthcare practitioners. He believes that if more doctors and nurses had the tools to cope, they could get through the pandemic without becoming consumed by overwhelm and burnout.
Burnout among healthcare professionals has become a major problem, increasing from 44% to an estimated 55% and even higher in certain sub-specialties post-pandemic. According to Dr. Fisher, burnout can be divided into three components: exhaustion—physical, psychological, and emotional; a feeling of being detached from one's work or a lack of competence; and a lack of compassion and human connection—which Fisher finds the most concerning.
Fisher has taken his approach beyond healthcare and into other areas of life. In 2020, he started a consulting firm called Heart & Mind Health Consulting, where he works with businesses to help their employees manage stress and increase productivity. He has also become involved in the corporate wellness sphere, consulting with major companies to create impactful and engaging wellness programs. And will be releasing his book "Just One Heart," in 2024.
Dr. Jonathan Fisher is an incredible example of the power of mindfulness-based approaches to promote physical, emotional, and mental wellness. Through his practice, he has helped countless individuals create lasting positive changes in their lives. His dedication to mindful heart health sets him apart from many other healthcare providers and helps create a culture of understanding and compassion for those on the mindful path.
You can listen to the full interview with Dr. Jonathan Fisher here, on the Living and Leading with Emotional Intelligence podcast, where he shares additional insights into holistic health, burnout, and strategies to better self-regulate.