Many of my best friends are in the medical field, and there are practical reasons for that. That said, I don’t think I could survive without the perspective of my equally good friends outside of medicine. In one way or the other, they are always reminding me of the following things:
1. Don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s true that at work we often deal with life or death situations. But that doesn’t need to translate into everything that we do. Both at work or at home, it helps to be able to laugh at yourself. In fact, one of the best ways to create a connection with your patients and your colleagues is by showing your human side. Your resume and the certificates on your wall speak for themselves.
2. Admit what you don’t know. You lose a lot more credibility by making things up or fumbling through an explanation than just saying you’re not sure and that you’ll find out. Many patients are double checking what you say on the Internet before they’ve even left the office building. After years of exam after exam, we start to believe we have to know everything, forgetting that every profession has experts in particular areas of their field. Patients are okay with this.
3. Take a sick day if you’re really not feeling well. Believe it or not, our patients don’t want to get the latest daycare bug we’ve contracted it from our toddlers. Additionally, coming to see us requires time and money on their end – they don’t want us when we’re not at our best. You don’t want your contractor coming out to fix something at your house and doing 50 percent of the job and charging you full price. If somebody really can’t reschedule, see if one of your partners can fit them in.
4. More often than not, things can wait. In a world where “STAT” seems to be thrown around whether warranted or not, it’s easy to overemphasize the urgency in what you want done. Yes, the type A in all of us wants results as quickly as possible. But the stress involved in making sure that things happen at that speed is often not worth it. The next time you’re pushing hard for something to happen immediately, pause and consider whether it really needs to happen that second. If not, save the energy for when it actually does.
5. Self-care really is important. My non-medical friends are quick to point out when I don’t practice what I preach, and this comes up most often in relation to how I take care of myself. Ever notice how all of your friends who aren’t in medicine eat better than you, exercise more than you, and are usually less stressed out than you (even if they have more to be stressed out about)?
6. Sometimes, mediocrity is OK. What do you call the person who graduates last in your medical school class? None of my friends routinely ask their doctors where they went to medical school, how many publications they have, or what they hope to accomplish in five years. There are times where life is just about survival. Yes, try and do your best, but also cut yourself some slack.
7. Not everyone gets personal satisfaction out of their job. For many people, a job is just a job. While I know many physicians that don’t love their jobs for various reasons, I know very few that don’t get personal satisfaction from what they do. We are actually really lucky to have found something that we’re passionate about that provides this. It may not stop us from groaning when the pager goes off in the middle of the night, but that’s another story.
8. When you’re done with your education, enjoy your life. If you don’t want to work 80 hours a week, don’t. If you want to pursue another passion, you can. If you want more flexibility, ask for it. Yes, during training medicine can be all encompassing and the path is pretty outlined. But after you’re done, you have choices. Make the ones that make you happy.