Self-care for Physicians: 5 Strategies for Success
February 03, 2020
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
officially into May, which re-introduces us to a critical issue that many
humans from all walks of life must contend with—mental health. Mental Health
Awareness Month has become a crucial opportunity for people to join in
discussion, mindfulness, and advocacy to support those who encounter mental
illness every day.
care, physicians and other providers are used to making patients a priority in
the course of their work, striving to facilitate positive physical and mental
health outcomes for those they care for. But self-care is equally important for
physicians to build a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout in their
How good are
you at taking care of yourself? Are you finding a reasonable balance between
work and home life? Is there room for Improvement?
a physician recruiter at Merritt Hawkins if you’re considering a career change.
Common obstacles and impediments to
blocking your way or preventing you from taking better care of yourself? Here
are three common culprits.
biggest obstacle to self-care may be…you. Do you push yourself or work harder
or longer than you have to?
Bell, MD, an integrative medicine specialist at The University of Tennessee
Medical Center, noted that physicians tend to be givers and inclined to
sacrifice their own health in their drive to improve the health of others.
a group, we derive much our value from accomplishments, position, prestige and
productivity,” said Bell. “This innate drive to ‘do’ and push through helps us
get through medical school and residency but often leads to our own detriment
once we enter the workplace.”
you’re just starting out in your career, remember that you’re no longer at the
mercy of a residency program director, said orthopedic surgeon Christopher
Donaldson, MD, who works with the Orthopaedic Medical Group of Tampa Bay. Now
it’s time for you to figure out your own criteria for success.
Inna Husain, MD, points to physicians’ lack of time overall and lack of
control over one’s time as major impediments to self-care.
physicians, we are on call for our patients. What this means is that we
continue to think about their problems and help solve them even after call for
our patients,” said Husain, associate residency program director and section
head of otolaryngology at Rush University Medical Center.
are often never truly disconnected from their work life,” she continued. “Even
when on vacation, we can get calls, pages and emails about our patients. It is
very difficult to focus on yourself when you are worried about others.”
expectations. Orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist David Geier,
MD, ticks off a list of the job demands that many physicians face today.
see patients, operate, take call—but now we also spend time on the phone with
insurance companies trying to get tests approved or sit in meetings that feel
like a waste of time,” said Geier, author of That’s Gotta Hurt: The Injuries
that Changed Sports Forever.
update charts during ‘pajama time’—after we go home, before we go to bed,” he continued.
“There’s constantly pressure: to see more patients in less time, to get
overhead lower, to get ratings and patient satisfaction scores up.”
also cited electronic charting, calls to pharmacies and other “behind the
scenes” work as tasks that take a lot of time and energy and yet can’t be
5 key strategies for physician
can’t leave self-care to chance. Experts stress the importance of figuring out
what you need and being deliberate about working toward it. These five core
strategies are a good place to start.
1. Establish work-home boundaries. This may sound like a tall order, but
you need the time away from work, physically and mentally, to relax and
recharge. One strategy to try: put your phone away for a few hours, and let
your colleagues or partners know that you won’t be reachable, unless there’s an
emergency. Or try to limit how often you check your email away from the office.
2. Prioritize family time. Your organization will take as much time as
you give them, but at what cost? Donaldson makes spending time with his wife
and two children a priority. “You can’t ever get back time with your family,” he
said. If your current work situation
can’t or won’t accommodate your family’s needs, it may be time to consider
3. Get enough sleep. Adults, including medical professionals,
need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per might, but many aren’t getting it, said Hilbert.
Start by making small changes, and eventually you’ll form a good habit, she
every day, no matter what,” said Geier. “Whatever you love to do—running,
weightlifting, cycling, CrossFit, yoga, playing basketball or soccer—it doesn’t
matter. Just find a way to spend 30 minutes in physical activity every day.” Exercise
can help your state of mind, too; Bell noted that he practices yoga daily to
help him keep up his resiliency, which helps him a lot on stressful work days.
5. Maintain a healthy diet. Are you following the same advice that you
might give to a patient about eating right? Or are you eating junk food on the
go, or gobbling something without even tasting it while you’re charting? Think
about the fuel you’re consuming and see where you could make improvements.
Revisit your plans
continually evolve as a person, your unique self-care strategies will also
change. Your mind and body will not be the same five or ten years from now, so
it’s important that you listen to yourself. Be deliberate about revisiting your
plans periodically and figuring out the most effective ways to create success
for your mental wellbeing.
an Emphasis on Wellness Prevent Physician Burnout?
Physicians Can Be Healthy Role Models for Patients
MERRITT HAWKINS specializes in placing physicians and advanced practitioners in career
positions that fit their professional and personal needs.
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