There’s an unofficial contract that you seem to sign when you embark upon a career in medicine that goes far beyond the Hippocratic Oath. It is replete with implications - that you will sacrifice your sleep, be okay eating graham crackers from the PACU instead of a normal dinner, spend a portion of the holidays away from people that you love, drop whatever you are doing when your pager goes off, and dedicate yourself to lifelong learning.
While all of these things are components of our career path, it’s also important to remember that we are people too. We also have interests outside of medicine, people that we love that we also have to take care of, and a responsibility to both ourselves and our patients to stay healthy. More and more, we hear about physician burnout. On any given day, at least one article about the subject crosses my Facebook newsfeed. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but also easy to see why. The overarching sentiment seems to be that we are being asked to do more with less, that we are providing a commodity rather than a service, and that our efforts are never fully appreciated.
These are certainly issues that need to be addressed more globally, but also consider that ultimately, you are in charge of your own happiness. You know your needs better than anyone else, and if you ignore them, you haven’t done anybody, including yourself, any favors in the long term.
Wellness doesn’t have to be a time sink. If you’ve got time to do an hour of yoga everyday and that is your respite from medicine, by all means, do it. But you could also blast your favorite music in the shower, study at your favorite park instead of the library, or set up a weekly phone date with your best friend - whatever it takes to keep you connected with who you are.
Even if something does seem to be a time commitment - also consider that having something to look forward to will often encourage you to complete your work more efficiently so that you can make it to that movie with your significant other or enjoy that karaoke night with your friends. Stress relief also makes it easier to focus on the tasks at hand. While the act of multitasking often makes us feel better, make sure that after you complete that workout with your lecture playing on your iPod, you assess how much was actually learned. If you’re not actually learning that much, try taking a total break for your next workout and see if that refreshed feeling allows you to study more effectively when you get home.
Additionally, build rewards into your life. In a setting where it seems you can always do more, it’s important to acknowledge what you have accomplished. Along those lines, nurture your relationships with your family, friends, and significant other. Although relationships take effort, they also provide you with the fuel you need to keep going when you’ve exhausted your own supply.
Bottom line: burnout is real, and depression amongst those in medical careers is common. Keep your eyes on the big picture, and take care of yourself.
Nisha Mehta, M.D.
Dr. Nisha Mehta is a physician and writer with interests in physician wellness, medical education, and health policy. Follow her on Twitter @nishamehtamd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nishamehtamd.