“In the two decades since starting at medical school, I have never heard the word ‘identity’ spoken. Grand rounds, the very heartbeat of medical learning, are not a place for philosophical musings or profound emotional questions. Diagnostic labels gathered there speak more to the patient and less to the person. We talk about loss of blood and loss of lung function but we do not contemplate the loss of person and the loss of self.”
― Jules Montague, Lost and Found: Memory, Identity and Who We Become When We’re No Longer Ourselves.
Being married to a physician, who is also a son of a physician; having helped him transition to private practice, and being around physicians as close friends for years, I have learned a lot about them. I understand the magnitude of stress and burnout they face in their professional and personal lives. Looking back through our lives, many of us will remember at least one moment when we experienced their healing touch.
But where do doctors go when they need emotional or professional support? After an exhaustive search on how and where physicians can get help, I was a little surprised as to how little resources there are for physicians struggling with stress, anxiety, and/or burnout. I realize that physicians often choose not to get help for their emotional problems or challenges with their personal and professional lives. Physician healing thyself seems to be a popular theme and self-help apparently, is truly the best help for these professionals. Despite having good healthcare insurance and the knowledge to access it, they often put their physical and emotional needs on the backburner, always prioritizing the needs of their patients and families above their own. I have many friends who are physicians who have barely done an annual physical. This precedence for patient well-being may even sabotage their emotional well-being.
There are several factors that make a physician aground in today’s world. An exhaustive need for comprehensive record-keeping and administrative work superimposed on ever-increasing numbers of patient encounters and procedures push the physician to the limits. HIPAA compliance and patient satisfaction are another significant causes of stress. In this digital age, the stress of a patient adversely reviewing their practice online can have substantial negative effects. All these factors may be discordant with their “why” of being a physician who took an oath to save lives and make a positive impact in the world. It is probably heart-breaking for some who feel they are being dragged into this morass of revenue generation and bureaucracy, overlooking the raison d’être of why they started this journey in the first place.
The notion that physicians must be the experts and the end-all leads to a self-sabotaging culture. Physicians are simply humans who can experience self-doubt, anxiety, depression, burnout, and may struggle to juggle their personal and professional lives. It is unreasonable to expect them to live a seamless, whole life without predicaments. The challenges of the American healthcare system have led to criticism of physicians and their integrity. They are not seen as protagonists as in years past, especially if the patients had an unpleasant experience with the healthcare system during their time of need or illness.
On many occasions during this pandemic, I have been contacted by physicians pouring their hearts out about their struggles. I have learned through research and networking with my peers that physicians are not a regular clientele for many. I am still perplexed as to the cause of this hesitation among physicians to get help and follow through with getting help. I have had senior physicians and surgeons as well as residents in training who are lacking motivation and having self-doubts about their choice of profession or struggling to cope with their demanding residency program requirements. Perceived lack of time is a common excuse although research clearly shows that this may not be the case.
How can I help physicians? I can help rekindle the fire you once had for your profession. If you are a resident, I understand how demanding the program usually is. I can help you critically analyze your needs and enhance your performance acquiring the skills to cope and exceed the demands of your program.
If you are an established attending physician, I can help you prioritize your management decision(s), optimize time management, and handling your emotional needs better. I can help create better relationships with your physician and non-physician colleagues. I can help improve your rapport with your technical staff, administration, and nurses to help function smoothly. We, as humans, have blind spots where we do not see our failings and flaws, but we know how dangerous blind spots can be and how they can affect our goal of reaching our destination. We must evolve as humans and being obstinate in your ways and conduct can be a hindrance to your development.
The first step towards your personal development is acceptance. Accepting the fact that everyone needs help at different points in life and that we do not have all the answers to all our problems. Accepting that we all have self-doubts, moments of fear, and sometimes, just simply bad days. Coaching is not as time-consuming as most people think. Even as little as two 45-minute sessions a month can bring amazing results on how you manage your stress and live a happier, more balanced life. My coaching sessions are tailor-made to fit professionals who are busy, and I offer flexible sessions to work around your schedules.
I would suggest all physicians to consider prioritizing their emotional and physical health and get back to your “why”.
I am happy to help. All you have to do is reach out and commit. As the saying goes, the graveyard is everyman’s resting place, isn’t it wise to live your life to the fullest before we rest, even if you are a physician?
Hamna Siddique is a career and leadership coach focusing on confidence and personal development.
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