Path to Renewal

Path to renewal
Prescription for living a life of balance

By Mamta Gautam, MD, FRCP(C)

Your tenacity and hard work put you on the honour roll at high school. Your sense of responsibility, conscientiousness, and attention to detail saw you through the pressures and competition of medical school. Certainly, such characteristics have been an asset in achieving your career goals.

But combine those traits with the risk factors that go along with medicine - long hours, sleep deprivation, constant demands, and exposure to disease and human suffering - it isn't hard to see why many physicians lead lives that are out of balance.

Certainly, it is critical to be a conscientious doctor, but problems emerge when we perceive that meeting our own needs is selfish. We believe that there is always someone or something else that needs our attention more. As a result, we put our own needs on the backburner.

Sadly, some of us are not any more generous with the needs of our loved ones. This results in a breakdown in communication and intimacy. We are left feeling stranded and isolated.

As the stresses mount, our behaviour becomes characterized by cynicism, negativity, irritability, emotional exhaustion and a sense of growing depersonalization in relationships with co-workers, patients or both.

If we fall ill, we put off getting help. Indeed, evidence suggests that many of us don't even have our own family physician. We don't want to become someone else's patient because that feels like we've lost control - so we self-diagnose and self-medicate. We continue along this path, failing to acknowledge needs, until a crisis arises - a marital break-up, burnout, professional complaint or lawsuit, perhaps.

This is what the culture of medicine has been like for many years, but I sense that things are changing, albeit slowly. Medical students and residents are advocating for a healthy lifestyle in medicine.

We can learn a lesson from these younger doctors. Balance in our work and home lives is all about making choices. We have the authority to decide how we spend the rest of our lives. We must make it a priority to critically examine our lifestyle and scrutinize the choices that determine our lives' courses.

The following are some suggestions that physicians can employ to begin leading healthier, happier lives.

  • Take regular breaks and holidays
  • Find a family physician and see him or her regularly
  • Get regular sleep - it is restorative, will help you cope, and increases energy levels
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Admit when you are angry so that you can then manage your negative feelings
  • Spend time with your spouse and children
  • Look for and enjoy humour daily
  • Learn a relaxation technique and practise it regularly
  • Reach out to family and friends, and discuss your concerns and worries with them
  • Address your spiritual and religious needs to provide purpose, meaning, and values in life
  • Treat yourself to a new book, a facial, or a fascinating course

The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario
July/August '03