Many physicians are discouraged by the state of medical practice in 2014. Maintaining job satisfaction and well-being for the duration of a decades-long medical career can be as daunting as completing an uphill marathon. In addition to keeping up with the explosion of medical knowledge and maintaining certification in your specialty, what concrete practices can you adopt to insure that you will make it to the finish line in good form? Consider these strategies, all beginning with the letter “M.”
Mentors. Make use of mentors and coaches! Allow the wisdom and experience of others to guide you throughout your career. Senior physicians, informal mentors, and professional coaches who are trained to help keep practicing physicians in optimal shape are invaluable sources of assistance. Avoid the temptation to go it alone; follow this dictum from Ecclesiastes throughout your career: “Two are better than one.”
Means. Live within your means! Although few professions are as gratifying and meaningful as the practice of medicine, don’t assume that it will enrich you. Manage and minimize debt, and avoid the lifestyle “arms race.”
Move your muscles.Regular and frequent exercise is essential to health, mental acuity, well-being, and stress management. Prioritize regular exercise: the time you invest will pay huge dividends over the course of your career.
Master mindfulness or stress management. Medicine is a high-stress profession, a combination of mild-to-moderate chronic stresses punctuated by intermittent, acute stresses. Learning and adopting validated techniques such as mindfulness-based stress reduction helps physicians to develop and maintain resilience in the face of the tense vicissitudes of everyday practice. The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is a pioneer of this approach, which has been shown to be effective both for health care providers and patients with various chronic medical conditions.
Medical and mental health care. Make use of them. Physicians are not invincible; we suffer from the full range of medical problems, including mental and addictive disorders. When you aren’t feeling right, seek the appropriate help. Seek help early from qualified generalists and specialists, and obtain help as a patient, not on the fly from a well-meaning friend or colleague. If you aren’t well, don’t go to work until you are better — you’re a public safety professional!
Mix it up. Although every physician should be a master of the profession, daily practice has the potential to become tedious unless you develop strategies for mixing it up. Doing the same thing day after day and year after year is sometimes stultifying. Figure out how to inject variety into your work day and into the course of your career. Remember that physicians do not live by medicine alone. Develop interests, passions, and pastimes outside of medicine that are engaging and satisfying, and that differ substantially from the daily grind.
Minimize risky behavior. Many physicians sabotage their careers by misusing psychoactive substances, social media, or violating boundaries with patients or staff. Play it safe and never assume that risky behavioral choices will go unnoticed.
Mensch. Be one! Urban Dictionary defines the Yiddish word mensch as “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.” Be a role model, and don’t let the ego strength that many physicians develop over the course of our careers give way to egotism and arrogance. Maintain and sustain warm connections to friends and family, and utilize these connections to talk about the things in life that most matter.
Clearly, it is far easier to write and read about these strategies than to implement them across the board. You might start by identifying the “M” opportunity that speaks to you. As your medical marathon progresses, adopt a strategy of ongoing personal quality improvement. See you at the finish line.