Most physicians go into the medical field to “help others,” but it’s difficult to find ones who have found a healthy balance between being hard-working experts in their fields and also having a thriving personal life. I won’t say I have it all figured out, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons in the past 2 years.
Figure out what’s required of you
I know many seasoned physicians who brag about the long and arduous hours they spent in hospitals as residents, completing endless and seemingly meaningless tasks to demonstrate their commitment to the job, but the world has changed. ACGME has set standards for the amount of time residents can work and has placed value in both education and service. Being a doctor doesn’t garner the same admiration and God-like worship it used to, and with that, the amount of paperwork and oversight has increased. My point: being a physician can be a fulfilling career without the masochism. It’s important to distinguish what’s required of you for billing purposes, what’s the standard of care for whatever ailment you’re treating, what’s expected of you to communicate effectively with other healthcare providers, and what’s considered “above and beyond” to differentiate you from your peers.
Find out what’s important to you
In college, I was just learning how to survive on my own. In medical school, I focused on studying for exams. Now, at age 28, I’ve realized that my daily habits are becoming ingrained. I remember the first time in residency that I resented feeling like I needed to go out drinking to hang out with my “friends.” As I sat on my bed, hungover with smeared makeup, I wasn’t filled with the feeling of warmth and love that I thought I should feel after spending an evening with a group of people. That day, I sat down and made a list of what was important to me. I recognized that I really value deep conversations with family and friends, political activism, environmentalism, and spirituality. The simple act of self-reflection made me become more aware of my actions and made me more confident at work and home.
Seek friends outside of work
Remember those “friends” I mentioned earlier? Well, they happen to be co-workers in my department. It was easy to fall into the swing of spending time with them because we are all around the same age, roughly have the same sense of humor, and see each other daily. The problem came a year into our collective friendship, when I realized I didn’t know anything about the people with whom I spent so much of my time. We didn’t discuss uncomfortable topics like politics or religion; heck, I couldn’t remember where some of them were from or if they had any siblings, and it really bothered me. I made a conscious decision to leave that comfort zone and seek friendships based on common interests. I joined Meetup.com, spoke to strangers when I was out at events, and made it a point to exchange information with people I found interesting and follow up with them afterwards. The result: I now have friends that I’m comfortable talking to about silly things, venting to about work, and sharing my deepest thoughts and emotions.
Designate time to have fun…even if you’re tired
Being tired is not an excuse. I understand that as a psychiatry resident, I have more time than a surgery resident, but we all eventually go home. I allow myself plenty of time to sleep (8-10 hours a night) and still have time to have date nights with my husband and spend time with my friends. The key for me was making a calendar and sticking to it. Every day is planned out, including designated time to sit and stare at the wall. When friends say, “We should hang out sometime,” I immediately look at my schedule and ask, “When and what time are you free?” Everyone’s busy nowadays, but the people who value you will make time to spend with you, and you should do the same for them.
Make home a work-free zone
My biggest stressor in medical school was not having a space that didn’t remind me of school and all the work I wasn’t doing. I made a decision once I started residency to leave work at the office. Sure, I read journal articles and send out some emails, but I don’t write patient notes or answer non-emergency calls at home. I recently added the caveat that I also wouldn’t discuss work after the first hour of seeing my husband unless something was really troubling me or was a cause for celebration. The end result: my home is a safe-space that I don’t associate with stress.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned while in residency, but the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I am not defined by my occupation. I am a unique person with interests and passions, and so are you.