Doctors have a few dirty little secrets. We have the highest rates of suicide amongst all professions and are in desperate need of mental health reform.
For those who don’t know what it’s like to work in this area, it can be difficult to understand the pressures that doctors face daily.
Doctors live their lives balancing an intense workload with long hours, often without any time for themselves or their families. Many doctors feel that their primary duty is to take care of their patients first and foremost.
This issue needs attention from medical professionals and policymakers alike — one which doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon if nothing changes now.
Doctors, here is another dirty secret.
Many of your patients do not really care about the sacrifices you are making. And frankly, if you ceased to be their doctor, they will move on very quickly. How did it feel to read this? Did it bruise your ego? If this made you wince, you might need to develop a thick skin and ultimately create healthier boundaries.
Yes, of course, if you’re “always available,” they will sing your praises. The sad truth is, when you deviate from that, the story changes quickly.
Doctors, please make time for physical and mental health. Please seek help immediately before you reach the point of crisis. With the world of virtual counseling and coaching, you have so much more privacy than before.
You can talk to someone who lives far away from you and is by no way connected to your social circles. Doctors, you are a human being first, and you have a duty to first take care of yourself. You cannot give exceptional service to your patients when you are continuously trying to pour from an empty cup.
Another dirty secret is that many people, and I’ve even read a psychologist, write this word-for-word:
“The truth is that most physicians and nurses and front line workers are just fine and are not suffering anxiety or burnout. Myths abound, designed to scare us. If doctors are working “lots of extra hours,” they are choosing to do so and getting paid for the vast majority of those hours. Doctors are doing just fine.” Yes, a psychologist had the audacity to recently post this on social media. How much more the average Joe who is struggling to rub two nickels together? What do you think their opinion is of us?
For those of you who are new to the physician role or about to start, please heed my words from a 10-year veteran. Hold back. Do not immerse yourself 100 percent into a practice.
If you have to work long hours, do not commit to a practice. Once you set the bar to an unrealistic level, it’s very hard to backtrack. Trust me; I’ve been there. I totally understand the pressures of trying to get into fellowships and pay of loans — I was there, and I’m still there. However, going at this unsustainable speed is not worth it.
For those of you considering having a family, especially to the ladies, please heed my word. I do not recommend committing to a practice and give it 100 percent until you have completed your family. Once the babies/children start arriving, it’s extremely hard to work long hours. Your children are only young once, and their younger ages are when they form their beliefs about the world and their self-worth. This is the time when they really need you. Parents, you are irreplaceable to your children. They need you more than you might realize.
This month is Mental Health Awareness Month; please take the time to reflect on your life. If something isn’t serving you and your personal development and growth, it’s likely time you need to make immediate changes. My fellow doctors, you are truly amazing. Honestly, the majority of us didn’t realize exactly what we were signing up for. I doubt any of us would have imagined we would be at the front lines of a global pandemic, seeing countless patients, friends, colleagues and family members lose their lives.
You didn’t realize just how profoundly your career would affect your life. The fact is, most people, knowing ahead of time, what they were truly in for, would carefully reconsider a profession in medicine. Your MD doesn’t define you. You are amazing, valuable and a rare precious jewel from just being you! Take care.
Tomi Mitchell is a family physician.
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