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How Resident Physicians Can Incorporate Wellness Into Their Everyday Work Routine

Working in Wellness at Work: 5 Practical Tips for Resident Physicians
Aaron Amat/123RF.com

Some of the best ways to keep sane during your residency training involve incorporating aspects of your personal home life while in the hospital. Below are some practical (anecdotally trialed) tips for incorporating wellness into everyday work for a new resident.

Take the Stairs

If you’re an exercise fiend, jog up the stairs every chance you get. That way, at the end of the day if you can’t make it on your run, you at least perhaps got some blood flow to your legs intermittently during your shift. Waiting in line for food in the cafeteria? Do some calf raises. Need to talk with a nurse? Make it a walk and talk. I never had anyone call me out or get onto me for doing something a little odd in order to get more movement in my day. We’ve all been there. Obviously, if your hospital is one in which you’re encouraged to wear a suit instead of a white coat in the wards, you’ll have to make some modifications, but most work clothes can allow for a brisk pace while ascending stairs.

Although unlikely, if someone does choose to call you out, I challenge you to confront the culture. Be frank: “I am struggling to maintain activity this year with my busy schedule, and exercise is really important for my well-being. As long as I don’t distract anyone or impair patient care, I think this will help me be a better physician for my patients because I will feel more well myself.”

Maintain Your Personal Life

Do you crave socialization? Do you need to chat with your friends in order to feel fulfilled and happy? There are multiple times throughout the day you can grab an extra 5-minute conversation. Take the stairs down to noon conference and talk with your mom on your walk. Sneak away for a bathroom break and stay an extra few moments to fire off a text to your best friend. Make a phone call on your commute to and from work.

Don’t be afraid to take the call in the workroom from your significant other. Personally, this tip is one of my favorites. It emphasizes our humanity and life outside of work and allows our peers and team-members to do the same. Obviously I do not condone chatting for hours during a busy workday, but as our days are poorly defined and hours can be variable, taking a quick call with family or friends to keep them informed on your day or schedule (i.e. “I won’t be home for dinner because I just got a new admission”) can be re-humanizing. We are of course first and foremost physicians, but remembering that your colleagues also have a life outside of the hospital is also incredibly helpful. I remember a co-intern telling me that her senior (who she originally believed to be cold and harsh) answered a phone call from his fiance. His voice completely changed and he became loving and affectionate. This intern said this encounter she witnessed completely changed her view of the resident. She had forgotten that he was human too, and it made her reevaluate how he behaved at work. No, he wasn’t mad at her for asking questions or rudely critical in his quick quips on treatment plans; he was just dealing with his own struggle while being at work. As physicians, we are humans like the rest. Remember that.

Learn on the Job

It’s hard to motivate yourself to read journal articles once you’re at home on the couch. Pick one new thing about each new admission to learn from (and if you’re really good, write it down!). This might be an odd comorbidity that isn’t commonly seen in patients with heart failure. Read a brief summary on UpToDate. Maybe it’s a drug you rarely see on a medicine reconciliation – double check its common side effects! As cliche as it is, every moment can be a learning experience if you let it. Remain curious—this will be your greatest weapon against burnout.

Find Your In-hospital Sanctuary

Find your place in the hospital where you can go when you need to be alone. Call room, off the beaten path bathroom, back elevators, or even by using headphones. Finding a reliable place early will help you integrate it seamlessly when you need to step out for a breather. Obviously, there is a time and a place for everything, and as providers, I will trust that you use your good judgment of when is or is not appropriate to sneak away for some isolated rejuvenation.

I am quite introverted and being around people all day drains my energy despite my love of people. An easy trick for loud, busy work rooms is to invest in some large obvious headphones if you can so people can know that you’re not ignoring them when you’re working on notes, you just are wearing headphones. Communicate why you’re doing this with the team and you should have no problems.

Try Meditation

Don’t forget to breathe. Meditation can truly be done anywhere, anytime, without anyone’s permission or even knowledge. Harness that.


Further Reading

Can Physicians Really Have It All? Work-life Balance in the Modern Era of Medicine | by Ore Ogunyemi, MD

Pursuit of Happiness and a Healthy Lifestyle as a Resident Physician | by Faith Coleman, MD

How I Balance Residency and Personal Life | by Nora Ekeanya, DO

Balancing Your Lifestyle in Healthcare: Surviving The Hospital Lifestyle | by Victor Peña-Araujo

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About Audrey Rutherford, MD

Dr. Audrey Kay Rutherford is a resident physician training in Dermatology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in business at McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin and her Doctorate in Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. She was inducted as a member in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society in 2018 and completed her intern year of residency at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of several scientific publications in the field of dermatology and is a published poet. She is passionate about dermatology, medicine, residency training, patient education, health, and wellness. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to podcasts, hiking, yoga, painting, and spending time outside with her dog. Opinions expressed are solely her own and do not express and are not intended to represent the views or opinions of her employer, program, or organization affiliation.