Time for Self
Physicians, especially those with families, need to remember to make time for themselves “so that you won’t build resentment toward others,” Grimm says. “Doing something for yourself refills your energy tank.” Whether it’s exercising, going fishing, volunteering at the community center, downloading photos from your digital camera, or reading a book, “it’s different for everyone,” Grimm points out. “You have to know what you need.”
Dr. Whelan—who is a runner—focuses on physical activity to relieve stress and re-energize his mind and body. “It’s hard, because people who are serious about exercise, however you define ‘serious,’ are told to exercise on a consistent schedule. Well, we don’t have consistent schedules,” he says. “The key is to recognize that this is a challenge and find a creative way to schedule it, just like we make other decisions creatively. You have to make an upfront commitment.”
Whatever you do to “refill your tank,” there’s a good reason to devote time to it. “The more we do for ourselves, the more we can do for others,” Grimm says. “It’s not an hour-to-hour ratio; you might just need a five-minute meditation at the end of the day. … I always challenge my clients to be aware of what gives them energy and what takes energy away from them. This is essential for work, and essential for life.”
Leave Work Behind
One of the hardest things to learn—a lesson left out of medical school texts—is how to leave the stress and responsibility of the job at the office. “These are intense jobs; they’re high-stress,” Dr. Whelan explains. “The good thing about being a hospitalist is that when you’re off, you’re off. But it’s important to be able to compartmentalize.”
Dr. Whelan learned a couple of simple strategies to help with this concept. “At the end of every work day, after you’ve signed off, dedicate some time to transition. It can be just 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t answer the phone or e-mail; just dedicate that time to transition,” he says. “Run through your day and process each part—whether that’s each patient or each administrative task—emotionally and intellectually. For each one, make a plan for what you’ll do tomorrow. Once you’ve worked through your day this way, you can allow yourself to let it go.”
He also advises hospitalists to use on-the-job time when it’s available, rather than overlapping work and personal time. “There are parts of your business that can be done when you’re not seeing patients, such as reading journals,” Dr. Whelan says. “Try to schedule those things into your [work day], so you don’t end up catching up on them at home.”
Find Your Balance
Make it a point to make the most of your time off. Plan it in advance to ensure you do what you need to do and what you want to do. Think creatively and include all types of activities. And be sure to include time for yourself.
“There are very few of us who can sustain a life made up entirely of work and still be happy,” Dr. Whelan says. “Eventually, you’ll start to resent the work, and that’s the stuff that leads to burnout. You’re also probably not doing as good a job.”
One final piece of advice: Be prepared to change.
“You need to be self-aware, and you need to realize that your definition of balance will shift with age, responsibility, and goals,” Grimm says. TH
Jane Jerrard is a freelance writer based in Chicago.