From studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association to articles in the New York Times, people both in and outside of medicine are beginning to discuss the topic of physician burnout. Balancing the treatment of patients with the administrative and other responsibilities most physicians have plus trying to have a life outside of work is getting more and more difficult. The era of the smart phone, where email can always be checked and you can always be reached no matter where you are or what time it is, has also contributed to physicians feeling like they are sapped of the energy they need to be at their best. While residency is often identified as the time when this pattern of work dominating life begins, I think it starts much earlier. I have seen numerous pre-meds exhibiting signs of burnout and already putting work ahead of their health.
As pre-meds prepare to start the fall semester, I wanted to share some tips on how to avoid burnout and achieve work/life balance:
1.) Carve out time to pursue your passions.
A lot of pre-meds think they have to focus on science and medicine all the time and that they have to put aside interests like music and art. The truth is that having a creative outlet is very important and actually makes you a more interesting, stronger applicant. Taking time every day or every few days to sketch, compose music, write a short story, choreograph a dance routine, or do something completely different from the Organic Chemistry or Physics you’re studying will help you feel renewed and energized.
2.) Get moving!
Numerous studies over the years have demonstrated the physical and emotional benefits of being active. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym and run on the treadmill every day. The key is to find an activity you enjoy that also gets your heart rate up. It might be karate or salsa dancing or rock climbing or quidditch. Staying fit will also help you be better able to handle stress.
3.) Take time to breathe.
Finding a few minutes to focus on your breathing and clear your mind is a great way to avoid burnout. Some students gravitate towards more formal meditation, which is fine. There are a lot of guided meditations that you can download from iTunes or other sources if you feel this type of meditation works best for you. I also highly recommend reading Leo Babauta’s blog – Zen Habits. His tagline of “Smile, breathe, go slowly” sums up the type of great suggestions he gives in his posts. No matter how you choose to do so, make sure you have a few minutes a day of just being a person instead of being in pre-med mode.
These are a few ways to battle burnout both as a pre-med and as a physician. I would love to hear some of your strategies so please feel free to add a comment and share them! I also want to thank one of my blog subscribers for the idea for this post.