We are professional healers. We take care of people’s problems all day, every day. It is an honor and a privilege.
However, our profession of caring takes its toll on us, too. It's not easy. Compassion fatigue and physician burnout are both terms with which you are probably exquisitely familiar. At one time or another, you have been tired, angry, or jaded. You have had no time for anything and you have missed out on the things that make life (and you) fun.
If people answered honestly about their experience with burnout, most would probably say, “been there, done that.” (Read more on why burnout isn't a fair fight and why we all lose when physicians burnout). And if you haven’t experienced it yourself (burnout rates vary by specialty), you likely know colleagues and friends who have experienced it.
The big question we keep asking is: how do we balance our intense work lives, while maintaining our sanity and happiness? Given the intensity of the type of work we do, and our hectic schedules, how do we even begin to prioritize wellness and balance? Unlike in residency, where work-life balance is a joke, things do change for the better afterwards. You do eventually have more control over your time and choices.
Here are some reflections on things physicians need to know about work-life balance, in no specific order:
1. Make your wellness a priority.
Make time for self care of your whole self: mind, body, heart, and soul. As a committee member of the Physician Wellness Program of the Travis County Medical Society (TCMS), I cannot stress enough that work-life balance and wellness needs to be a priority. Start with you and make yourself a priority. Recognize your human emotions and experiences. Reach out.
2. Don't forget who you are as an individual.
Yes, you're a physician, but that shouldn't be the only thing that defines you. Don't forget that. Your degree is only one part of who you are, so don’t let it bind you. (Read more on the truths and challenges of being a doctor mom).
3. Grant yourself space and time to really live.
It took a health scare for me to realize that I needed to slow down and make the most of my life. Things can be unpredictable, no matter how detailed our plans for the future. Instead, make the moment yours and start living your best life.
4. Work with balance.
For decades, we've unwaveringly dedicated our focus and energy to becoming physicians. We've been programmed to think that working all the time makes us better doctors. So, when we get tired, we just work harder. But why? Working nonstop doesn't make us “better,” it just makes us grumpy and tired. It shows up in how we show up to work, in our patient encounters, and in our personal lives. So, try to step back a little and work with balance. Work less if you can. Don't overdo the extra calls or moonlighting shifts. Don't let your entire life pass you by without taking some time to enjoy it. Time is precious and we can never get it back.
5. Have a life outside your medical career.
Spend time cultivating relationships with family, friends, and significant others. Resume hobbies. Start a side gig (that can be related or unrelated to clinical medicine). Learn a new skill. Travel. Get outside your bubble.
6. Be your own advocate.
Whether it be for sick days, maternity leave, time for pumping breaks at work, or even a vacation, know your rights and stand up for yourself. Don't let anyone bully you or guilt you into commitments or responsibilities with which you are not comfortable.
7. Accept that you are not perfect.
Recognize you won't and don't know everything. Every day and every patient is a learning experience. Expecting perfection is an unrealistic goal. You are human. And that is more than ok. (Read more on letting go of perfection).
8. Know you are worth it.
Don't settle for less and do not accept devaluation of physician time.
9. Be your own friend instead of your harshest critic.
Inwardly radiate the love that you so generously give to others. You are doing a lot and you are doing it well, even if it may not always seem that way. (Read more on making space for self compassion).
10. Most importantly, please remember you are not alone.
Find a support system. Reach out to other physicians, too. We've been where you are as a medical student, resident, and as a fresh attending. We know that it is exciting, but that this medical experience is a demanding one that never ends. Please do not let it consume you.
We are all in this together. Through our collective voices, we can advocate for positive changes for you, for us, and for future generations of physicians.
A physician on your side, your colleague in medicine and friend in life
Image: Benjavisa / gettyimages
This article originally appeared at The Mindful MD Mom.
Nadia Sabri MD, FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician, mom of two, yogi, and founder of The Mindful MD Mom, an award-winning Top Millennial Mom and Mindfulness blog. Dr. Nadia has been featured in The Washington Post, KevinMD, MomMD, Motherly, She Knows, Help Mama Meditate, Wholist Health, MD for Moms. Connect with Dr. Nadia on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.