It’s no secret that burnout plagues the medical field like no other. It has long been reported that doctors, residents and medical students are some of the most burnt out and depressed folks around. That’s not to say everybody is like this or that there aren’t levels of burnout. Let’s go through some ways to deal with it and prevent it.
1) Understand That Medicine Is A Marathon-Smell The Roses
From my personal experience with feelings of burnout along with some of my friends, not appreciating the fact that medicine is a long journey is a common cause of burnout. We have heard it time and time again to the point where it’s in one ear and out the other; “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. You learn though, usually the hard way, that this is true. My biggest mistake in college was putting off my happiness and enjoyment of life “until I got to medical school”. This lead to making the premed journey more hellish than it had to be and missing out on lots of college experiences and memories. It was a tough pill to swallow but it made me promise myself that med school wouldn’t be the same. I try my best to enjoy the process and use any free time to enjoy myself NOW and make memories in life NOW. Not “after I match” or “after I get a job”. The “afters” will never end. Take the initiative of understanding that this is a very long journey and as soon as you are done the work necessary for the stage you are at, make it a requirement to enjoy yourself and smell the roses.
2) Take Care Of Your Health
Regardless of your career or training stage, what you eat and how you exercise will largely determine how you feel and have an effect on your attitude. You don’t need me to tell you that exercise is a good thing but it’s one thing to know something and another to apply it. You only get one body to carry you through this life and you must take care of it properly. From endorphins to constant progress to look forward to, exercise and a healthy lifestyle have a huge effect on mentality and attitude. It’ll make you feel better physically and mentally and this will help to not only keep you positive, but give you the energy and resilience to do what needs to be done for school. Obviously, certain rotations and stretches of time in med school can constrict you for time. But this mostly comes down to a problem of priorities. Put your health high on that list and do the habits necessary. More water, more meal prep, more exercise that you enjoy, less alcohol, eating out, laziness etc. Don’t let becoming a doctor cause you to sacrifice your own health.
3) Social Networks and Support
Humans are social beings; even the most introverted ones. We need people around us to enjoy life with, make memories with and sometimes, to lean on. When going through tough times or a particularly rough stretch, it’s vital to have a support network that you can reach out to. This should include people within medicine and those outside of it. My friends in medicine allow me to decompress and just complain about things only they would understand. It also reminds me that I’m not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with me for having these feelings. Find a few good quality friends that you can share this stuff with. Remember, quality over quantity. You don’t want to go around complaining to everybody and telling them your problems. It’s also good to have friends/family outside of medicine because this allows you to get away from it all. It’s good to just sit around a bonfire and talk about sports or the good old days and have a sense of normalcy in your life. Regardless of how much you love medicine (or pretend to), it’s good to get away from it for a little bit.
4) Ask For Help
Medical students are notorious for having type-A superhero complexes. As a result, a lot of us hate asking for help, thinking that we can and should do everything ourselves. School instills this mentality in you because everything is based on grades and your results in comparison to others. But the reality is that being a doctor or just real life in general is much more of a collaborative effort. You should still be hardworking and pull your weight, but asking for help is a great thing, not something to be looked down on. Medicine is tough and if you try to figure it all out on your own, you’re asking for burnout. When you don’t know how to do something, or are confused about a concept, put your ego aside and ask people who know. If you open your eyes to it, there are people all over the place in medicine that know more than you, and that’s not a bad thing. Learn from them, avoid mistakes that they have made and use it as an opportunity for collaboration, not competition. This applies to clinical skills and also to personal stuff such as dealing with burnout. Ask upper year students and residents on advice to avoiding burnout and pitfalls you should be aware of. For the most part, they’ll be very happy to help.
5) Keep The End In Mind
When feeling down or burnt out, it can help to keep your end goals in mind. There is a reason you set those goals in the first place. There is a reason you decided to pursue medicine and no one can judge what that reason is but you. It only has to make sense to you and whatever that end goal looks like for you, think about it and try to get excited about it again. En route to our goals, we have to do a lot of things that we don’t want to. Lots of mundane things that we don’t enjoy or particularly feel passion for. This is why when you’re in the thick of it, it’s important to remember that end goal you are working towards. This gives the small, mundane day-to-day tasks meaning. I might not like what I’m doing right now, but it is necessary to get to where I want to be, so that’s it, I have to do it. When I’m on 3rd year rotations that I don’t like at all, I need to constantly remind myself that I have to get through this to become the type of doctor I want to be. I can either complain my way through it with my head down, or at least try to enjoy it and learn from it. Use that end result to motivate you out of a rut.
6) Take A Break
It’s important to take breaks along the way and re-energize. After exams, go to social events or just take a weekend entirely off. Go pursue hobbies, go home to visit your family, go out for dinner with friends, anything. You need to stop to re-fuel along the way because as we have discussed, it’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s common to feel guilty for not studying in medical school but there is no reason for this. You don’t have to let medicine take over your life. Taking a break means genuinely taking a break. No flashcards, no thinking about school or talking about it. Genuinely allow yourself to drop everything and just enjoy life for a little bit. This will allow you to go back feeling re-charged and ready to go. When you are feeling burnt out, schedule your next big break and it can motivate you to get through this rough patch as it is something to look forward to.