Mr. Jack JackAss is a character that came to me decades ago. From the beginning, he put me in a better frame of mind.
Every story has a beginning. Jack JackAss’ story starts with my Mom. She was a long-time smoker and died from lung cancer the year before I entered medical school.
During medical school and residency training, I witnessed the devastation smoking was causing so many of the patients I “treated.” I came to realize that, to most effectively treat the consequences of smoking, it was best to treat the smoking itself. Most smokers begin smoking as young adolescents and eventually became so addicted to the nicotine that they continue to smoke despite an understanding of its devastating consequences.
Just as I was finishing medical school, the character, Jack JackAss, in all his glory, came to me as a mechanism to ridicule and undermine the images of social success that tobacco companies sell so well. I eventually trade-marked the character and used him to teach media literacy at high schools to educate the students how tobacco companies market to a targeted audience.
As I grew into the wisdom and expertise of the mature physician, Jack JackAss grew on me and others. He made us laugh. I started giving Jack Jackass diplomas to patients who had stopped smoking. Several patients hung their diplomas on their walls and shared them on social media. I realized Jack not only made me happy; more importantly, he could be used to help people happily celebrate their freedom from cigarettes. In short, he became a force for good.
I am currently developing a smoking cessation program based on him. I find such work enriching. It adds great value to my professional work. As people avoid and/or stop smoking, it gives me a sense of connection and celebration with others.
And there is secondary gain ― the unintended consequence thing. It assists me address the impact of physician burnout. Through Jack JackAss, I have learned one of the most important cures for this dreaded burnout ‘dis-ease’ is human connection — connection and empathy with my patients, with my family and friends, and connection with myself.
As Smoker Jack connects me, he comforts me and gently reminds me why I entered the field of medicine in the first place ― important, meaningful work that makes a difference.