I’ve often been perplexed by this dilemma that is presented to us: On one hand, we as doctors are supposed to be the champions of humanity, the healers supposed to be guiding entire nations through trying times, such as the recent COVID pandemic. On the other hand, we are sometimes poor at managing our own personal connections. We barely have time to appreciate the ones who actually depend on us, the ones who actually derive emotional comfort from us.
It is such a paradox. Even when the whole world was shut down, doctors were still getting up every morning and going to their hospitals. Even when everyone got a break, the healthcare sector did not. So I believe that instead of running away from this fate that is inherently ours by the nature of our profession, we need to find coping mechanisms in order to find that work-life balance that is oh-so-essential to have a holistic and fulfilling life.
In taking care of others, we often completely forget and neglect ourselves and our families. My own father, who is a doctor, is in his late fifties; and because of dedicating the past 30 years of his life to his Pediatric practice, his body has taken a considerable toll. He’s suffering from coronary artery disease as well as type 2 diabetes. Despite making decent money, he complains of intense fatigue at the end of every day almost religiously. And that’s not all. On top of everything, he has no time to form deeper relationships with his family or his friends. This is why this issue is so close to my heart. And this is also precisely why, when I look at him, I think, “This is no way to live.”
So naturally, when I got accepted into med school, I already had this innate curiosity to try and find that sweet spot between work and life. And the following pieces of advice are the hard-earned fruits that helped me on a deeply personal level to not give in to the robot-making factory.
- Find a sleep schedule that fits you perfectly. And then stick with it for life.
I cannot stress this enough. When overwhelmed by tons of academic work during the day, we tend to feel rebellious at bedtime. We get an illusion of control over our lives. We feel like the few extra hours we get by delaying our bedtime are the ones we, and only we, control. However, sadly, I’m not wrong in calling it an illusion. The few extra hours you get at night are automatically compensated by sleeping in late the next morning and missing your first couple of lectures. And then your bedtime gets later and later until you’re left with a constant feeling of lethargy in the day, as well as the feeling of control over your daily life slipping through your fingers bit by bit. Been there, done that, wouldn’t recommend it at all.
- Meditate. By all means, meditate!
I can’t stress enough how much of a lifesaver meditation has been for me. There are often times when life frustrates you enough for you to lash out against someone who didn’t deserve it. It’s usually your friends, your family, or your romantic partner. You end up regretting what you did, but the damage is already done. This cycle can be avoided by meditating regularly. What meditation does is separate you from your thoughts and emotions. Such separation is vital for someone with such a busy lifestyle that they don’t have the time to process their thoughts and emotions to filter right from wrong thinking. Meditation goes a long way in helping one attain peace while being in the chaotic academic life that med school is.
- Prioritize smart work over hard work.
The tortoise may have gotten ahead of the rabbit in the race, but we forget the fact that the rabbit also took a nap and was well rested before he reached the finish line. We need to develop an approach that focuses on working hard in the right direction, not working hard all over the place, as in the case of the tortoise. Keep in touch with your seniors for syllabus hacks, use memorization tools, and find better study resources than the ones you currently have. Study high-yield material like Physeo, and make sure to use Anki for revision. The contrast is stark compared to the traditional model of study by reading a textbook and reviewing by repetition. The time saved by all of this can be utilized to get some ‘me-time’, pursue your fitness goals, or enjoy your loved ones.
- Learn and apply basic DBT skills.
Well, I was saving my favorite for last. DBT, short for dialectical behavioral therapy, is a set of emotional regulation techniques developed by modern psychology that helps you find an inner equilibrium vital for functioning healthily in front of the tumultuous world we live in today.
DBT can cause emotional improvement across jealousy, envy, guilt, shame, and anger. It can act as a vital tool for the moments when you’re a moment away from losing your cool or having a breakdown. These tools can help calm you down and give you insight. This leads to you being a more emotionally reliable and predictable person for your loved ones and yourself. If you feel that this sounds just like the fix to your issues, here is a simple introduction to what DBT is, and some basic DBT skills that you will thank yourself for practicing.
On an ending note, I want to remind everyone reading this article that you are also human beings. Just because you have chosen a demanding career path, doesn’t mean that you have to be the tireless champion of humanity and showcase every good quality known to this world. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to rest. The tips I have given are just guidelines which you should add to your life slowly and steadily. Don’t go all in, and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect on the first try.
It’s sad that we’re living in a culture where the very professionals who are practicing healing on a vast scale are the ones who are not given time or permission to heal themselves. Keep trying, and remember that we are not robots. You’ve got this.