Back in 2011, when Dr.Karen Sibert’s controversial advice published in a New York Times article, urged women doctors to reconsider their choice of career as it is one that severely impacts work life balance, the debate opened up a can of worms. Sibert famously said – “You can’t have it all” and went on to reiterate that “Doctors can be just doctors – If you want a life outside, be a mother, and run a family, choose something like journalism or professional cooking, etc
Several years later, while women have (even if not fully) managed to turn the ‘you can’t have it all’ thinking on its head, there is no denying that the medical profession remains one of intense stress and pressure – for men and women both.
Why doctors have a hectic life
Picture this – doctors start preparing to become one when they are still in high school. Besides the extremely rigorous struggle to clear entrance exams and get into a college of their choice, it takes an average of 10 years for a doctor to finish his/her graduation and specialization studies. Then comes the actual test – of establishing themselves in the market and carving a reputation. Unsurprisingly, it calls for crazy hours, inadequate sleep, and little time for family or self. Gestation time? Another 10 years easily. Now if 20 years of putting your own life, desires, hobbies, and passions on the back burner to achieve excellence in just aspect of life i.e. the career, doesn’t make for a stressful life filled with guilt and frustration, we don’t know what does. Statistics reveal that over 40% of U.S. doctors experience emotional, physical, and psychological burnout from their jobs, and their reactions to stress are no different than people in other occupations – resorting to substance abuse and cutting corners. Is there a way out? Yes, and it starts with actively participating in reclaiming your life.
Stress management for doctors
Here are four ways in which doctors can take care of themselves despite erratic schedules and a high pressure lifestyle:
#1 Plan ahead to prioritize yourself over other things: Because doctors’ schedules can eat into their personal time ever so often, it is important that they plan in advance to make time for eating regularly exercising, reading, relaxing, spending time with self and loved ones, etc. For busy professionals, the importance of planning can not be overstated.
#2 Outsource patient support and customer service tasks: As a doctor, delivering utmost quality care should be your only concern. Scheduling appointments, doling out printouts for prescriptions, drafting lengthy discharge instructions, taking patient feedback, follow-ups with insurance providers, transcription, data entry tasks, and sundry other administrative tasks can be easily handled by a virtual assistant – albeit under your supervision.
#3 Eat healthy, especially when on the go: Doctors are constantly moving – from one surgery or OPD to another, attending to home visits or squeezing time for conferences to stay abreast with the latest in their dynamic field. It’s easy to treat meals as a secondary priority when you are always eating on the go, but ironically it is all the more important to eat right when you are out and about. Because you not only need the energy to power your mind and body but also to stay away from infections that come calling with outside food. Carry homemade salads, brown bread sandwiches, an assortment of nuts or just whole fruits – things that are easy to carry and can be safely eaten cold. Stay away from excess restaurant food as that cause a serious dip in energy levels, making eating a counterproductive exercise.
#4 Unwind often and completely: Whenever you can squeeze in some time off your busy schedule – go hiking, relax by the beach, cook a meal for family or friends, watch a movie, tune in to a podcast or do whatever else that makes you relax. Remember to stay away from emails, chat, social media, and other digital channels that can eat into your ‘me’ time when you are relaxing.