By Walter Wiggins
As physicians, we spend our days caring for others. It may not always feel like caring, particularly when dealing with a tough patient or a frustrating case; however, it is. On outpatient services, we try to help people who sometimes don’t seem very interested in helping themselves. On inpatient services, we try to alleviate suffering and, in the process, witness the human experience in ways laypeople cannot even fathom. Some days take the empathy right out of us.
In some cases, at the end of the day, we go home to families, friends, and significant others and care for them, too. There are mouths to feed, kids and pets to play with, chores to be done, phone calls to make, and relationships to be maintained. We spend what precious time we have outside of the hospital or clinic desperately trying to reclaim the humanness that allows us to return the next day with a renewed sense of empathy to repeat the cycle.
Some of us have other obligations, too – generating and editing content for a website, volunteering at a free clinic, or running an interest group or club. In many cases, we sacrifice time with our loved-ones to perform these tasks, but sometimes the tasks are set aside in favor of the latter. Either way, we do this in an effort to advance our careers and give back to the system that has brought us to where we are today or to do something meaningful for the less-fortunate.
What we occasionally lose in all of this busyness is the time and ability to care for ourselves. We sacrifice sleep, exercise, proper eating habits, and routines of spiritual renewal for our careers and the people we love and serve. There are times when we feel like we have it all worked out and get settled into a rhythm that works for us. But, inevitably, something comes along and disturbs that rhythm, be it a new rotation, a new opportunity, or a new relationship.
All too often, it is only when we hit a metaphorical wall that we stop to advocate for ourselves and take care of the caretakers again. Here’s a challenge to those embarking on a new journey this year, whether it is your first year of medical school, your intern year, a new job, or expanding your family. Advocate for yourself from the start of this new adventure. Make time for relaxation, exercise, sleep, or whatever else you tend to neglect when things get busy. You may find that you perform better, lead better, and love better when you allow time for self-care and renewal.