Rest is not enough for a busy physician

After years of being busy taking care of critically ill and recovering neonates in the neonatal ICU, then coming home to take care of my children, I’m making new decisions. One of them is to learn how to relax and be still. It’s a new experience for me. It’s taken years and many shifts to get to this place. And it’s becoming a self-care practice that I really enjoy.

For the last 20 years, my days off were spent resting and recovering from being at the bedside of sick neonates for 22 out of 24 hours. Yes, there were shifts like that. I was recovering from watching the monitors to see if the vital signs were finally stable before heading to the call room. And I was recovering from feeling my energy drained as nurse after nurse asked me questions to clarify orders written earlier that day. It was all part of life in the neonatal intensive care unit. And it was a life I had chosen so many years ago.

For the last 20 years, I spent time resting, shutting myself off from the world to simply catch up on much-needed sleep. Looking back on it now, I realize I was merely recharging my batteries in preparation for another week of more of the same.

I hadn’t developed the strategies that would catapult me to the next level in my life or career. Back then, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know the difference between resting and restoration.

Rest is not enough for a busy physician. Resting merely addresses the physical exhaustion that doctors experience when we commit to working 12- and 24-hour shifts. Restoration is what doctors really need to live a purposeful life. We need strategies and support that connect us to our souls and provide support for mental and emotional well-being.

I am embarking on such a journey. I set aside time to be in silence. Sometimes it’s for five minutes. Other times it’s longer. I make the most of the time I have. I spend time in nature and in gratitude — a far cry from the fluorescent lights, the telephones, pagers, and the alarms of the monitors in the unit.

As high-achieving physicians, we spend so much time seeking perfection that we miss out on really appreciating what we have right now. The busyness of our lives and careers do not make room for it. We finish one thing and move on to the next.

My recommendation to you fellow physicians is that before you move onto your next level schedule time in your busy schedule if even for a few minutes, to give thanks for the journey.

Stephanie Wellington is a physician and can be reached at Nurturing MDs.

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