Physician burnout is real in today’s practice–the seeds may very well be planted in residency training and early practice. Family relationships feel the strain and can be a very important support mechanism. Although little is taught in medical school and residency, there are a few keys to managing this stress. Here are my thoughts:
1. Make time for family. Incorporate family into routine activities such as grocery shopping, going to the drug store, laundry, etc. Even though you may be accomplishing “household work” you can do it together. There is always time for conversation while driving in the car (even with the kids)
2. Schedule “dates”. Even though trainees are often on call as frequently as every 3rd night in some programs, it is very important to schedule a date with your significant other. It may be as simple as a trip for coffee, ice cream or dinner and a movie. Get a babysitter if you have kids and do this at least once a month.
3. Make daily “3 Minute Check Ins”. Every day, no matter how busy you may be, take 3 mins to send a text, make a quick phone call, or send an email to your significant other. It makes such a difference to the person on the other end to know that even though you may be incredibly busy, there is always time to check in.
4. Leave work at work. Hang your work related problems on a hat rack. Although it is important to share frustrations and process challenges at work with your spouse or significant other, it is imperative that you do not project work related anger and frustration toward your family.
5. Ask for help. Medicine breeds independence and self reliance. Often asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness in training. However, we must all learn to rely on others to help us process difficult emotions. Many training programs and hospitals provide Physician Self Referral counselling and these should be taken advantage of during difficult times.
Medical education is vital to training the physicians of tomorrow. In the US today, we are able to train some of the most successful and talented doctors in the world. However, this training can be stressful and this stress may continue through years of practice. We must learn to manage work related stress in more productive ways. Habits die hard and many negative habits are learned in training. It is my hope that residency training programs will continue to make advances in supporting the emotional needs of trainees. Helping young physicians manage family life, demanding work schedules and stress will allow us to produce a new breed of doctors who are more equipped to avoid burnout. By helping physicians manage stress and develop positive coping mechanisms, we will be better able to care for our patients in the years to come.