I, like many, have an unrealistic belief that I need to be “available” to anyone and everyone whenever I am asked to help. It’s so hard to say no, professionally and personally, because it contradicts our very core values of being physicians.
Explore This IssueAugust 2019
Most colleagues of mine respond to emails far too quickly, likely because they have their phone set to “ding” with incoming texts and emails. Like Pavlovian dogs, many may compulsively check the phone, read emails, and draft replies instead of being engaged with our spouses, significant others, children, pets, and whomever else we are with when we are outside the hospital setting. Texting is clearly necessary, efficient, and easy, but can also rob us and our loved ones of what little life we have left when we are not working. Perhaps we are all victims of anxiety over the endless tasks and to-do lists, and we are already anticipating that there will be no time tomorrow to read emails from today (and yesterday) or deal with tomorrow’s tasks. But we are not living today, tonight, or this weekend when we are constantly living in preparation for tomorrow and the challenges it will bring.
I, like many, have an unrealistic belief that I need to be “available” to anyone and everyone whenever I am asked to help. It’s so hard to say no, professionally and personally, because it contradicts our very core values of being physicians. The idea and habit of trying to “finish” your work must be dispelled. We must first accept and embrace being human ourselves, entitled to all our physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs so that we may move first toward individual well being, and then move to organizational well being.
“Passion can be a gift or a curse,” said Brad Stulberg in a blog in the The New York Times “Well” section, “The Right Way to Follow Your Passion” (Published March 19, 2019.). Who amongst us is not passionate? If you aren’t passionate about your identity as a physician/surgeon, your job, or career caring for humans, does that mean you don’t care? Perhaps you’re already bitter, are disengaged and just surviving each day or, worse, have left medicine altogether. If you are passionate, beware. What seems to be a character strength, without awareness, will create “imbalance” for one’s own “work–life” as we passionately give energy and time to whatever the cause, at the cost of not prioritizing ourselves and loved ones who depend on our very presence and engagement at home.
“Work–life balance” sounds like what we all need, but it’s not possible until we embrace the uncomfortable truth that we too are human. The very thought that we are vulnerable, can get sick, can lose loved ones, may suffer mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, and then develop maladaptive coping mechanisms including addiction, is offensive and perhaps unacceptable. How can this be? It’s not fair. After all, we are the ones who have devoted everything to care for others. Shouldn’t that, in turn, provide us with immunity from suffering, pain, and natural tragedies? Sadly, no.
To improve and practice better self-care and develop new behaviors necessary to optimize our mental and physical well being, we have to change our perspective. No one will exercise more until they believe that physical and regular exercise serves a critical purpose and directly impacts length and quality of life. A great article was published in 2016 by Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielan in the Harvard Business Review: “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure” (Published June 24, 2016.). Research found a direct correlation between lack of recovery and increased incidence of health and safety problems. The science simply shows that by allowing our brain to disengage, we will be more effective, think more clearly, increase creativity, and truly “rest” for physical, emotional, and mental well being.
While burnout is epidemic across many professions, in medicine it’s morally unacceptable to exploit a group of highly skilled and trained experts who are the utmost specialists on caring for humans, who are already altruistic unlike any other. Healthcare systems have found the perfect “workers” who can and will be pushed to “produce” more, at the expense of their physical, emotional, and psychological well being, until we move away from a volume-based reimbursement model against constantly reduced reimbursement.