Have Compassion for Yourself

When you work with patients, you know that we need to listen, to be compassionate and kind.

Even if we’ve had a bad morning on our way in to work, we know we need to put on our professional persona when we get to the office.

We work long hours.

Sometimes it can feel like we’re a hamster running on a wheel – there is always another patient waiting, now you’re behind, it’s the end of the day and all your charts are still open or you’re almost done with your work but now you have to cover the inbox of a colleague who is out of the office.

Maybe we we have a long commute.

Maybe we were supposed to stop by the store, pick up the kids, get to soccer practice tonight and don’t forget to pay the mortgage.

Sometimes we pride ourselves on how much we can take on, push ourselves, survive on 4-5 hours of sleep and still do a good job at the office.

You can keep up this pace for days, months and even years – but at some point it will catch up with you.

You will come face to face with burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment.

Symptoms of burnout can include lower resistance to illness, a negative outlook on work/life, physical, mental and emotions exhaustion and wanting to take time away from work. You may also feel demotivated or detatchment from your work, low energy levels, poor personal relationships – all which lead to lower productivity at work. And if you are paid on a productivity basis, this can be disastrous to your paycheck.

Burnout can affect anyone, however, the medical professions have an extremely high rate of burnout compared to other professions.

Suicide rates among health care providers is one of the highest of all professions.

Burnout is everywhere, but you can’t fight an enemy unless you recognize it

Dike Drummond, MD

Our training does not teach us how to balance professional life with our personal life.

In fact, it is often just the opposite.

Your physicians worked long hours, their attendings worked long hours, therefore you need to work long hours – that is just what is expected of you. How can you become proficient at your trade if you are always taking time off?

Instead of seeing time off as a chance to love, live, laugh and recharge, surely you will not be learning what you need to be learning to be the provider we should be and fall behing.

In theory, we all know this thought process is ridiculous and downright harmful to our physical and mental health.

But we buy in – big time – until we can’t stay on the hamster wheel any longer.

Say your shift is supposed to end at 5 pm but you are typically there until 5:30, 6:00 or more because you know if you don’t bite off a chunk, then it will just add to the pile that will be there to greet you in the morning.

But how will you tolerate this work load and the demands of the patient when you got 4-5 hours sleep, have no healthy food in the house because you didn’t have time to go to the store, and the word exercise or activity is a distant memory?

Everything we counsel our patient to do – rest, eat right, exercise, get adequate sleep – we don’t do.

Have you ever had the colleague who always leaves on time, goes for a run before they gets to work and always seems to have a organic healthy meal for lunch?

They must be weird, obsessive, a “granola” right?

But just maybe, they know something we don’t know…

In medicine, if we see a problem, it is our job to try to fix it or at least make it manageable.

Why don’t we try using this same approach on our own lives?

What would your busy day be like if you knew you had something fun to look forward to after work, such as playing on a coed basketball team, having your spouse and kids meet you for lunch or have time to read that book you’ve always wanted to read when you get home? Wouldn’t your dog love if you actually had the time to take them for a walk? Throw the softball with your kids in the evening?

Remember how great it feels when you are on vacation and your day is not planned to the minute – you can wake up and say “what do I want to do today?”

It’s time to take back our lives.

It’s time to feel it is OK to say no –

No I’m off work now

No I can’t add on that extra patient today

And Yes – I want to take that week off for vacation – production be dammed!

If you can’t remember what your life even used to look like, take the time to stop, close your eyes and breathe.

Remember a time when you felt relaxed, happy, laughing. When you looked forward to the next day, week, year. When you dreamed about travel, remodeling the kitchen or getting back into a sport.

If there is one guarantee in life, it’s that time is moving faster than we are.

This is your life – don’t let it fly by without savoring all life has to offer.

Remember who you are.

You are unlimited.

You are intelligent.

You are valuable.

You are amazing.

Don’t let this profession ever take that away from you.

Get help, talk to a supportive professional.

And know that we are brothers and sisters who can unite and support each other. What will you do for fun today?