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Physician Resilience and the Little Way

July 11, 2023

By Dr. Jeremy Jones

Physician burnout rates are increasing throughout multiple disciplines and health care settings. Many resilience programs develop well-being skills, but lack any faith-based principles despite hope being significantly associated positively with physicians’ wellness. 1,2 Many recognize that even a natural level of wisdom, respectfulness, compassion, and other virtues necessarily develop physician resilience. 3 This further validates that medical learners and physicians could also seek ways to accept the grace of God to develop resilience.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the 19th century Carmelite French nun, was young and lived in a cloister, yet she developed incredible insights and carved a path to holiness known as the Little Way. Adopting the Little Way would most effectively develop resilience.

The Fatherhood of God

The first step in the Little Way is understanding our relationship to God as a Father. A child naturally is incapable of doing anything without its parents help. A child has the confidence that its parents will provide for everything he or she needs. Spiritual childhood does the same for us with God the Father.


Being resilient through practicing the Little Way requires us to derive joy in fulfilling God’s will through our personal humiliation. Humility is the foundational virtue that allows a soul to expect everything from God and not be concerned with our own personal prestige or good name. St. Thérèse learned to embrace times she was misunderstood or judged unfairly as an opportunity to grow in humility and offer them as little sacrifices of love to God.

Trustful Surrender

Recognizing our weakness and total dependence on God actually encourages us to abandon ourselves completely to do His will in all things. This becomes a trustful surrender to God the Father, a true adhering to our Lord Jesus Christ, and a receptive opening to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Mortification of the spirit is essential for aligning our will with the will of God. “Confident that she [St. Thérèse] was her Father’s little child and that therefore between Him and herself was a relationship of love alone, she made a simple, steady surrender of her will to His in the circumstances of her everyday life. Little mortifications of the will, little disappointments, little interruptions of her plans, little sorrows, little annoyances, little sufferings – these were the material for her sanctity, and it is here that she joins hands with us all, for these are the daily lot of everyone.” 4

The Little Way was well described by Sr. Marie of the Trinity, one of St. Thérèse’s novices. “You see, the way to be happy on the ‘Little Way’ of Thérèse is to abandon yourself to God and to think of yourself as little as possible, not even to seek keeping an account of whether you make progress or not. That’s not our business. We have only to try to perform all the little acts of daily life with the greatest possible love, to recognize humbly but without sadness, our thousand imperfections which are always resurfacing and to ask God with confidence to transform them into love.” 5 This resilience can only come through a deep prayer life and frequenting the Sacraments.

Vocation of Love

Our vocation is meant to fulfill our purpose: eternal beatitude with God Who is Love.  The Little Way is a perfect means to fulfill not only our purpose, but our vocation, profession, and apostolic mission. The secret of St. Thérèse’s universal apostolate is a love which leads to perfection. As she wrote in her diary, “My vocation, at last I have found it…. MY VOCATION IS LOVE! Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is You, O my God, who have given me this place; in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love. Thus, I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized.” 6

Victim of Love – Offering to Merciful Love

Despite her illness, St. Thérèse gave us a means to be completely joyful in a straight, short, and new way. “I count only on love: ask the good Jesus that all the prayers being offered for me may serve to increase the Fire that must consume me.” 7 Her Oblation to Merciful Love fulfilled her vocation, and it can help us fulfill our vocation as physicians. “Through the Offering, we console Jesus by letting him love us. And this consoling love can make us into saints, even great saints.” 8

Offering ourselves to our Lord Jesus Christ and His merciful Love will help bring us to closer union with God, offer atonement for sins of ingratitude, and ignite our apostolate. Secondarily, it will also provide us with proper resilience.


Dr. Jeremy Jones is a clinical associate professor in primary care at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MU-COM) in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has experience in teaching and mentoring medical students and resident physicians for twelve years. Dr. Jones is a member and officer of the St Raphael Catholic Medical Guild of Indianapolis. He gave a presentation based on this article’s theme to attendees at CMA’s Leadership Training Meeting last month.



  1. A Huber, C Strecker, T Kachel, et al. Character Strengths Profiles in Medical Professionals and Their Impact on Well-Being. Front Psychol. 2020 Dec 23;11:566728.
  2. BW Frush, JB Eberly. The Virtue of Hope in Medical Training. The Linacre Quarterly. 2022;89(3):319-326.
  3. M Hawking, J Kim, M Jih, et al. “Can virtue be taught?”: a content analysis of medical students’ opinions of the professional and ethical challenges to their professional identity formation. BMC Med Educ . 2020 Oct 22;20(1):380.
  4. Msgr. Vernon Johnson. Spiritual Childhood: The Spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. 1953, reprint Ignatius Press, 2001, p 37.
  5. Sr. Marie of the Trinity. Letter to Sr. Germaine, May 29, 1917. From: Pierre Descouvemont. Thérèse of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity: The transformative relationship of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her novice, Sister Marie of the Trinity. The Society of St. Paul 1997, p 118.
  6. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. The Story of a Soul. Ed. Mother Agnes of Jesus. Tr. Michael Day. TAN Books, 1997, p 163.
  7. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. From: Thérèse of Lisieux and Marie of the Trinity. p 36.
  8. Fr. Michael E. Gaitley. 33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-it-yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy. Marian Press 201, p 120.