July 1st is a deeply meaningful day for physicians in the United States. Today is the day when new physicians embark on a long and demanding journey to become specialized within a field of medicine, a process that takes years and thousands of hours of supervised, hands-on clinical training. Although physicians know the road is extremely tough, we feel blessed to join a noble and rewarding profession founded on the highest standards of compassionate, excellent medical care. So let me begin by saying, congratulations to all of you who continue to choose the road to excellence for the sake of our patients! Those of us who share your sense of vocation are proud of you, and we are here for you; please identify mentors early on and stay close to them!
This year is particularly special for my family because my niece starts her internship in internal medicine today! To celebrate the tremendous accomplishment this day represents, I’d like to remind interns and residents everywhere of the importance of recalling something that can transform your experience this year and, in fact, your entire career:
You were human before you became physicians.*
Although we sometimes feel (and need to act like) superheroes, the reality is that we really are human. If you remember this truth every day during your training and help your peers do the same, being intentional to recall this often and prioritize your needs, you will contribute to changing the culture of medicine in the ways that are so desperately needed, and you will be more equipped to come alongside your patients on their journey to becoming more whole. Such a focus is a win-win! It is also essential and, thankfully, it is talked about much more than it used to be.
In the May-June edition of Florida Medical Business Magazine, the importance of prioritizing physician wellbeing is discussed. The article, titled Rejuvenating and Enjoying Medicine Again, addresses different factors that contribute to the ongoing exhaustion and frustration so many of us now experience in practice. It also summarizes data from recent studies showing physician “burnout” remains prevalent, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.
As many of my readers know, I don’t love the word “burnout,” as it is sometimes code for abuse and neglect. Interestingly, when I began noticing aspects of what now would be called “burnout” about seven years into my clinical practice, nobody was talking about burnout or physician wellness, so I find articles like this one encouraging. The topic of physician wellbeing is becoming less of an afterthought and more of a main theme at the state and national level. I have hope.
The article emphasizes our need to focus on relationships and prioritize our wellbeing so we may not only be healthier and more whole as human beings but also care for patients more effectively. Our training fosters unhealthy habits that often develop early in medical school, and these habits can be tough to break later on. The sooner we begin to focus on what we need as human beings in terms of nutrition, physical activity, rest, relationships, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, the better off we’ll be as we care for others. For those in training, it becomes even more important to be intentional to not neglect those relationships and health practices that supported your success thus far. This becomes much more difficult given the built-in challenges of residency training, much of which will be outside your control, but being intentional and building community will make a tremendous difference.
Of course, the same principles apply to physicians in practice. If your life feels like work is in the center and you’re constantly trying to fit valuable aspects of life around work, perhaps it’s time to step back and take a wide-lens view of your life. Perhaps it’s time to consider ways to prioritize health, relationships, and aspects of life currently a bit (or painfully!) neglected. It’s never too late to have a fresh start so…
Remember to be good to yourself!
* This is a quote from page 28 of my latest book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine, which would make a tremendous gift for interns and residents as they begin this journey. Check it out!