Perhaps a tired sentiment by now (pun intended), but still as important as the day we acknowledged the need for personal downtime: Physicians are great at giving advice. There is a joke that goes, “Put five physicians in a room and you’ll get eight opinions.” When it comes to taking advice, however, we need practice. We make terrible patients.
The evidence is clear and undeniable. Good mental health and wellness in physicians produce better patient outcomes (Yates, 2020). Why do we resist? What keeps us from spending time outside of work enjoying our lives, experiencing the joy of our family, and doing those things that recharge us? Most times I ask the question, I get the response that “the place will fall apart without me,” or “I can’t afford to take off,” or “I’d end up so far behind that it’s better I just don’t go away.” From executives, I hear, “I need to be in touch with my team,” or “I need to be the example.” Yes—that one strikes the right chord. Be the example of someone who is healthy, well and balanced in their life.
We normally talk about New Year’s resolutions in January at the change of the calendar year. I want to put a call out for a New Year’s resolution at the start of the new academic year. Whether you have children in school, are in school yourself, teach residents and fellows or are a resident or fellow, this time of the year is the true new year. My call is this: Take time this summer to care for yourself. Focus on your well-being. Recharge. And reflect on what healthy habits you can adopt to sustain you through the coming 12 months.
I’m not talking specifically about mindfulness, meditation, yoga or even yogurt. You can do any of those if it suits you. I’m advising you to do what helps recharge you. You do you. For me, it’s a five-mile run around my property with the goats screaming at me to pet them each time I pass by (no less than six times on any given run). I also take to the sky in my airplane because it is the one place I know I won’t get distracted from the task at hand. We all have those things that give us pure joy and pleasure and that lead to our sense of health and well-being. Experience yours as often as you can while encouraging others to do the same.
And now for the patient part of the story. When we are stressed or not performing as the best version of ourselves as practicing physicians, our patient experience scores drop. Our quality outcomes drop. We run an increased risk of incurring a safety event. And we’re just not as efficient. These effects impact our co-workers which, in turn, compounds the effects on our patients. And the cycle continues.
Please give these words some thought as you plan your summer. And please watch out for each other as we experience our lives. Together, we are stronger and more resilient.
Yours in good health,