Doctors Must Take Care of Themselves
If you’re a doctor, you may seem invulnerable to physical and mental health problems. People think you ought to know how to take care of yourself. After all, you went to medical school, and you’re in the business of taking care of others, right?
But few people realize that doctors often jeopardize their health.
Why Doctors Neglect Themselves
Doctors are usually competitive achievers who pride themselves on being independent. They often put their careers and obligations ahead of their needs. To them, paying attention to their needs is a sign of weakness and overextending oneself is a virtue. So they push themselves to work more and sleep less. Plus, as long as they can help it, they would rather not seek medical help.
Dr. Kaylan Baban was one such doctor. She once dislocated her kneecap while jogging. She hobbled through her surgical and clinical duties as if nothing had happened. When the discomfort became too much, she finally visited a doctor. It turned out that she had damaged her nerves by working through the pain. Medications, procedures, and physical therapy were necessary for her recovery. But she had to learn the hard way that she should have never put her health behind the demands of her career.
Doctors don’t just put their well-being in jeopardy by neglecting their health. Many indulge in unhealthy food such as soda, donuts, and other baked goods. To cope with the pressures at work, some even resort to drug use.
Drug Use Among Doctors
Because asking for help seems weak in the medical profession, doctors tend to self-medicate. Easy access to prescriptions, plus constant stress and emotional pain make some prone to addiction.
Lisa Merlo, Ph.D. is a researcher at the University of Florida’s Center for Addiction Research and Education. She interviewed 38 physicians who abused prescription drugs. When asked the cause of their addiction, most said they used prescription drugs to cope with stress and physical or emotional pain.
It’s a sad reality that physicians would rather turn to drugs than seek professional help.
Why Are Doctors Afraid to Seek Help?
Dr. Pamela Wible is a physician suicide prevention expert. She has been keeping track of 190 cases of physician suicide. When asked why physician suicide is on the rise, she explains that doctors have to deal with a heck of a lot. They routinely witness suffering and death. They are not getting the mental-health support they need to recover from traumatic experiences.
On top of that, physicians are forced to treat more patients than they can handle. They can’t see another way to keep up with the high overhead expenses and pay back their student loans. They lose the joy of practicing their profession and become virtual automatons.
What makes the situation even worse is that doctors can’t easily get mental health services. If they seek professional help, they must explain their situation to the board of medical examiners. Dr. Wible once mentioned the case of a divorced doctor who had to jump through a lot of hoops just to get her license. The reason? She sought counseling to help her cope with the challenges of her divorce. In the end, she was required to undergo a full psychiatric evaluation to get her license renewed.
If you understand the difficulties that doctors have to go through, it’s not surprising why some doctors choose to end it all. But suicide is never a solution to any problem. There are healthy ways to cope with the physical and psychological challenges of the medical profession. It starts with the realization that doctors must take care of themselves.
Make Your Health Your Priority
While putting your needs last may seem heroic and praiseworthy; it is not. By sacrificing your well-being, you’re compromising the quality of care you provide your patients. As a doctor, you must remember that before you can take care of others, you must take care of yourself first.
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Here are some ways you could start taking better care of yourself:
Get enough sleep and rest. While you’re in one of the noblest professions, and you’re responsible for saving lives, you’re still human. You need enough sleep. Working without sleep isn’t something to brag about. It’s inhumane to doctors and dangerous to the patients under their care. Doctors must call for better shift scheduling so that they get the rest and sleep that they need.
Watch what you put inside your body. Taking drugs and alcohol is the worst coping strategy you can ever use for stress as well as for physical and emotional pain. There are better ways to cope. Also, watch what you eat. Beware of instant fixes for energy lows. Steer clear of sugary snacks. Avoid sugar crashes from consuming large amounts of carbohydrates. Instead, go for healthy, energy-boosting foods with a balance of carbs, protein, and fat.
Get enough exercise. If you’re running a tight schedule, a 15-minute brisk walk in the park is better than no exercise at all. Also, exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress. It boosts the production of endorphins in your body which help you stay centered and calm.
Take time to meditate. Meditation is a time-honored stress reliever. It may well be your key to surviving the challenges of the medical profession. Aside from giving you tranquility, it has other psychological benefits. It helps you gain a better perspective on stress-filled situations. It brings you back to the present moment, so you don’t worry and just focus on the task at hand. It helps you build coping skills for stress. It makes you less vulnerable to negative emotions.
Don’t be afraid to seek medical and psychiatric help. You’re a human being, too, and you deserve every bit of care that you can get. There is no shame is asking for help. Remember that you’re more important than your career. While it may bring up certain issues, seeking help when you need it is vital to your well-being. Keep in mind that the healthier you are, the better the quality of care you can provide.