Why do doctors ignore their own self-care needs?

Most busy doctors completely forget (or ignore) the importance of integrating personal downtime and self-care into their schedules.

It’s no surprise so many doctors wrestle with overwhelm. Downtime is crucial for stress management.

What about you? Are you guilty of skipping your “you time?”

No, I don’t mean attending a seminar, reading an article, or talking about stress reduction at a staff meeting.

I mean, when is the last time you scheduled some real downtime, just for yourself?

Although my husband is a “manly man,” his work as an oral surgeon gives his back and neck a daily beating.

So for him, scheduling acupuncture and massage visits on a routine basis is more like maintenance than self-care. He knows that this type of downtime enables him to be his best for his patients and his family.

For me, there are different levels of downtime. One of my routines includes going to the gym, even when I don’t feel like it. It keeps me on track and healthy, and it keeps me honest. It’s a way of doing for myself what I tell my patients to do.

However, what I tend to push to the wayside is self-nurturing downtime. Like, the times when I just hang out in the backyard reading a magazine — not a journal, not a business book — a silly, indulgent magazine about hairstyles, high heels, and such.

Why do doctors put their own self-care needs second? I think it’s time we take a stand and turn that around, don’t you?

From this day forward, I’m giving you permission to put self-nurturing in your schedule.

We all need to feel rejuvenated, refreshed and renewed to be better doctors, spouses, parents and friends.

You may not have a long weekend coming up. But, can you hire a babysitter for a couple hours and go see a chick flick with your BFF? Or maybe your idea of downtime is attending a sporting event that doesn’t involve grade school teams or high schoolers.

For you, self-nurturing downtime might be the traditional girly mani/pedi appointment, or, beer with the boys after shooting some hoops.

Or maybe your idea of downtime is a solitary walk on a moonlit night to restore your sense of You.

Here’s how you do it: Write down an activity that you’d like to do, just for yourself. Now, pull out your cellphone and take a picture of that note you just wrote. In the coming week, do whatever it takes to make that activity happen for you.

Everyone — especially doctors — must make time for self-love and self-nurturing.

But, to reap the benefits, you must first sow the seeds.

Doctor’s orders.

Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist, speaker and personal coach.  She blogs at Love Medicine Again and is the author of Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine. She can also be reached on Twitter @StarlaFitchMD

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  • azmd

    In order to regularly take the kind of down time in which I would walk in the moonligh, get a pedicure, or read a book for fun, I would have to deduct time from the seven hours of sleep I get at night, which would adversely impact my performance at work, among other things.
    I suspect that many physicians are in the same situation as I am.

  • NewMexicoRam

    Yep, I thought this would be written by a specialist. Join the world of primary care for awhile, with all our mandates and EHR issues, then re-play your tune.

  • guest

    If my husband was in medicine perhaps I would be able to quit and find a lower paying but less demanding job of only 40 hrs a week and still be able to support a family and have time for downtime.

  • NewMexicoRam

    “And if they’re sick?”

    Reminds me of my very first 3rd year rotation, on pediatrics. I had developed a bad cold, rare for me, but was really worried I’d spread contagion on the poor sick kids. So I called the attending resident to report my illness. When she answered, she sounded like she had a worse cold than I did. I quickly said, “uh, I’m just calling to find out when rounds start.”

    • buzzkillerjsmith

      My buddy got pneumonia during his medical rotation, just a couple lobes is all. What a wimp! I lost all respect for him when he took a couple days off. If you’re not sick enough to be a pt in the hospital, you’re not sick enough to take time off.

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    The bestest wonderfulest way to get the self-care is to specialize in a soft-as-butter field.

    Sweet, Dr. F.

    Sorry about your husband, but poor career judgement has its consequences, as I myself know.

  • logicaldoc

    Simple answer. Training for Medicine during Medical School and Residency especially conditions you to completely ignore your physical, emotional, and spiritual health because of the overwhelming work needed to be done and the pressure put upon you by your Superiors. This carries over into Practice when you do eventually begin. 20 years later, you wonder why you feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually neglected. In America, we have a hypocritical System that teaches people (potential “healers”) to ignore themselves as they martyr their overall health for Patients.

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