In some circles of medicine, going long periods of time without eating a meal is considered a rite of passage and one’s ability to forgo his or her basic metabolic needs is considered a badge of honor. In other circles of medicine, there are gourmet lunches of kale salad and lobster bisque being delivered by pharmaceutical company representatives on a daily basis.
No one in either circle seems quite comfortable with their lunchtime decisions, and to be honest, I’m not sure when eating lunch became such a big problem for physicians. It shouldn’t be. As I started my first job as an attending family physician at a community health center in Washington, DC last year, I wondered to myself, “Is this polarity — no food or gourmet food — really necessary?”
The simple answer? It’s absolutely not necessary. There is plenty of uncertainty in health care. Lunch ought not be so controversial.
To this end, I started giving real thought to the people I respected the most in community health. One by one as they came to mind, I could almost immediately picture their lunch boxes, their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, their water bottles with funny bumper stickers peeling off the sides. They formed a peanut butter and jelly mafia, of sorts. They could also force half a sandwich on you, if you needed it, before you even knew what happened.
In community health, we don’t mess around when it comes to lunch. (We’re also not exposed to pharmaceutical representatives for the most part.) For me, I quickly fell into the peanut butter and jelly pattern. In the morning, I like to think about my mentors and their peanut butter and jellies. I feel a quiet, satellite camaraderie with them as I slather my peanut butter on my bread. After my morning session of patients, I turn on the Bonnie Raitt Pandora Station and eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my officemate. It’s a quiet moment of downtime and fellowship. It’s enough, though, to soften the hard edges of the morning, to remind us that we are human and worthy of such a basic luxury as a lunch break, and to power us into the afternoon.
At this early stage in my career, those more senior than me often caution against burnout. I appreciate their concern. I try to think about what medicine was like 10- or 20-years ago for young mothers like me with far fewer people aware of the controlled chaos of their day-to-day lives. I want to share with my concerned colleagues, though, that I’m actually in the peanut butter and jelly mafia and I take lunch very seriously.
Patricia Martin is a family physician.
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