“As I’ve been coaching physicians, I’ve realized that many of us have a tendency to just ‘grin and bear it’ when it comes to the challenges and stresses of the medical profession. We often tell ourselves that things will get better tomorrow, and we just have to hang in there until we finish our training and become an attending. However, this approach can prevent us from developing the language and awareness we need to understand and articulate our values, and to set boundaries around them.
Living sustainably, both personally and professionally, requires alignment with our values and the presence of healthy boundaries. That’s why I wrote the article on retraining ourselves to develop these skills. We may have grown up in a certain way, but we can always learn to express our needs and boundaries more effectively.
Physicians, in particular, often struggle with setting boundaries because we tend to be people pleasers. We want to help others and make them feel better, so we may have a tendency to always say yes, even when it’s not healthy for us. This can lead to burnout, so it’s important to reintroduce boundaries into our lives.
One way to think about boundaries is as a fence around our ‘yard,’ with our values and what we stand for as the ‘house’ inside the fence. The fence keeps out what we don’t want and allows in what we do want, and the gate allows us to negotiate and adjust our boundaries as needed.
To set boundaries, it’s important to first get clear on our values. What matters to us? What do we stand for? Once we have a sense of our values, we can identify what gets in the way of living them and then set boundaries to protect them. For example, if service is a value, we can ask ourselves what is acceptable and not acceptable in terms of how we offer our service to others.
Boundaries also require language and communication. We need to be able to express our boundaries and needs to others, and to negotiate and adjust them when necessary. This can be difficult for many of us, but with practice and support, it is a skill that can be developed.”
Yvonne Ator is a physician and personal and executive coach for physicians.
She shares her story and discusses her KevinMD article, “What my 10 year old is teaching me about boundaries.”
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