How to create a life you love in medicine

Creating the ideal life is hard, but it can be especially difficult in medicine, where the pressures and daily stresses are significant. What simple steps can you take to live your best physician life? Here are some action items to consider:

Follow your values. Most of us pursued medicine to help others, but were there other reasons that inspired you to dedicate a decade of your life to become a doctor? Take a moment to explore what is important to you. Understanding your values will help you to define your priorities.

Pursue your passions. We are often best at what we care about. Take part in projects that inspire you to be your best self. If you care deeply about what you are doing, you will very likely be driven to achieve your goals.

Avoid isolation. Focus on others. Surround yourself with people you admire and respect. You become part of the culture that you choose, so make sure you choose wisely in this regard. Make time for journal clubs and conferences, keep up with the literature, and keep up with your colleagues.

Adjust your mindset. Thoughts create feelings, which then lead to your behaviors. Learn how to label your thoughts and emotions and separate from them. Do not allow thoughts and emotions to define you and lead to behaviors that are not in keeping with your values. Imagine that you were involved in a medical error. Your immediate thought may be, “I am a terrible doctor,” which can lead to overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Instead of this response, consider the alternative thought, “to err is human.” Instead, the feeling may be one of humility and the reaction can be to do a root cause analysis so that this error never happens again. We have the power to reframe our mindsets and to boost our resiliency.

Accept what you can’t change. You cannot change what has already happened. Instead, you can see reality as it is and work to make positive changes going forward. Imagine a scenario where you were not granted a desired promotion. You could internally and externally fight that this happened, or you can accept it and grow from the experience.

Notice judgmental thinking. Evaluate the facts rather than the judgments. It is a fact that you did not receive a promotion. It is not a fact that you were undeserving and unworthy. Find a way to accomplish this goal by focusing on the facts, not on the negative chatter that surrounds them.

Find pleasure in life’s small moments. Create a list of activities you find pleasurable and start thinking about how to incorporate them into your everyday life. For example, if you like aromatherapy, light a candle while taking a shower or when getting ready for bed. Enhance mundane moments by making them special. Serve dinner on your family heirloom china. Elevate the everyday moments of your life.

Take a break. Put yourself first and make time for self-care. As physicians, we are constantly taking care of others, but we need to learn the importance of taking care of ourselves. Do not allow feelings of guilt or selfishness cause you not to take notice of your needs.

Pay attention to the present. Focus on your five senses. As a pathologist, I am drawn to the visual, and I often “get curious” about my cases. Find the interesting in your job by focusing on being mindful and present. Perhaps this means being present with your patients by truly hearing their story and listening to their concerns.

Be grateful. A significant part of being grateful is showing yourself compassion. Being a doctor is hard and stressful, but our profession affords so many joys.

Ask assertively. When you know yourself and your values, it is much easier to ask what you want assertively. Negotiate for your best life by spending the time to get to know yourself.

This too shall pass. My grandmother always said this to me; she even had a keychain with this inscribed on it. Make a list of coping thoughts that help you be the best version of yourself. Creating a life you love is closer than you think.

Jocelyn Chandler is a pathologist.

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