I’m sure you remember the tremendous relief you felt when you completed a substantial goal you set for yourself. That’s how I felt when I graduated from residency. I can honestly rank that accomplishment in the top five happiest moments of my life. Perhaps your life experiences have been a bit more exciting than mine! Fast forward two years, and most days I was overwhelmed with the huge burden of having people’s lives in my hands. I rarely felt the excitement and freedom that I did at the end of residency. How could it be that I was already so overwhelmed in a career that I had worked towards for 15 years?
I was completely unprepared for the stress of becoming an attending. We learn hundreds of medications, diseases and procedures in residency to take care of our patients, but almost nothing about how to take care of ourselves. Being a physician is stressful, exhausting and often thankless. Many of us have adopted unhealthy habits as a stress response to survive our training. We drink caffeine nonstop, eat processed food, get limited sleep and find it impossible to participate in physical activity. It’s no wonder we have hard time appreciating the role we play in our patients’ lives. However, in the last year, I have made my own health a priority.
I have finally been successful with weight loss, managing my mind and developing healthy habits for stress reduction. Experience aids in confidence, but self-improvement is what I was missing as I was trying to become the best physician that I could be. We are used to focusing on our patients and our families, with very little left for ourselves. The most important lesson that I have learned since graduating from residency is that physicians must make self-care a priority. If we don’t strive for constant growth and self-improvement, then we are doing a disservice to our patients and to ourselves. We can read textbooks and offer treatments, but learning to prioritize self-care is what will make us truly effective and compassionate physicians.
Dr. Kristin Yates-Coleman is an Obstetrics and Gynecology physician with 3 years of experience in NH.