- Caring for Ourselves to Better Care for Others -
Can you relate to the following anecdotes?
"I often find myself questioning how I got into medical school in the first place. Someone must have mistakenly placed my letter in the wrong pile. I am convinced it was luck. Everyone around me is smart, focused, well-rounded and exudes tremendous confidence. When I sit in small group, it becomes even more clear to me that they study more than I do, that they know more than I do, that they deserve this more than I do. Everyone seems to have their lives all figured out and 25 year old me does not. I know that social media only hurts my case, but it has become habit to scroll down my Instagram feed on the daily. Through quick snapshots of my classmates' glorious morning runs on the mountain and relaxing study days in the local cafe, I create stories in my mind of their perfect lives. I know they are just stories, but the more I am exposed to these stories, the more I begin to believe that they are true, and the worse I begin to feel."
"The grades of our OSCE were released last week. I scored way below class average. I guess this confirms the fact that I am inferior to the majority of my cohort. Whenever I underperform, these defeatist thoughts run through my mind and I find myself stuck in a rut of hopelessness, sometimes persisting for a few weeks. Even though I performed well on the three previous exams, I feel as if I'm back at square one and have to prove myself again. I start blaming myself for my faults and ruminate over the things I could have changed. I probably should have studied last weekend instead of going for dinner with my girlfriends. I probably shouldn't have spent 3 hours meal prepping on Sunday. Although I often feel like I need a break, these situations reiterate the fact that I don't deserve one. Even when I force myself to take a break, I am overwhelmed with guilt and cannot fully take advantage of it."
"I’m going to need a fourth cup of coffee tonight. Our case is due tomorrow and I still haven’t mastered the material. I completed the assigned readings but I can’t go to sleep without memorizing the physiological pathways. My preceptor often calls on us to draw them on the board so it’s most definitely worth sacrificing that extra hour or two of sleep. If I follow the schedule that I created for myself, I should be done at 2:30 a.m. I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my classmates. If I say something wrong, it will be disastrous. Although the professors reiterate the fact that we are here to learn, I know that we are constantly being watched; constantly being judged. My boyfriend tells me that I am setting my standards too high and setting myself up for disappointment. I think he's redirecting his frustration because I'm more concerned with finishing my assigned readings than I am with him. With his background in finance, he can't relate to my type of work stress and our relationship is definitely suffering."
"I am a chronic procrastinator. Here I am admitting that I have a problem, and yet I can't do anything to resolve it. I finish school at noon and spend my 30 minute metro ride home listening to music and creating a to-do list for the day. The list is over-ambitious but medical school itself is over-ambitious. I have no choice but to stick with it. Unfortunately, when I arrive home, I completely neglect it. A typical afternoon looks something like this: 12:30-1:00 pm preparing lunch, 1:00-2:00 pm lunch time while watching Netflix, 2:00-3:00 pm continuing to watch Netflix on the couch because I'm mentally unprepared to tackle my work, 3:00-3:30 pm nap time (if I don't snooze that alarm clock) because I'm tired from studying late last night, 3:30-4:00 pm clean apartment and make a phone call to classmate complaining about all the work we have to get done, 4:00 pm finally sit down at desk and begin watching videos on Youtube about this week's topic, but constantly distracted by sport highlights on the side of the screen, 6:00-6:30 pm preparing dinner, 6:30-7:30 pm dinner time, 7:30 pm is when the real studying begins. 7 hours after I get home, I finally begin to work. 7 hours spent putting off the work that really needs to get done. I fall into this cycle of late nights all because of my chronic procrastination."
"Students join interest groups to learn more about the fields that intrigue them, as well as engage in research opportunities, conferences, and observation days. I wish I knew what speciality I wanted to pursue so that I could start my CV building early on. The problem is, I can't decide between dermatology, orthopaedics, rheumatology or sports medicine: all of which are not mandatory core rotations. During my pre-clinical years, I spent countless hours shadowing physicians in the OR and clinics to help narrow down my areas of interest and ultimately, choice of electives. While I am spending all of this time contemplating my future career choice, others claim to already have already begun planning their applications for CaRMS. I thought medical school would be about exploring different areas, but instead I feel as if I am already behind schedule. Making school pass-fail took away the competition involved with grades, but it has opened the door to another dimension of trying to distinguish yourself from others."
"If you want something to get done, ask a busy person. This saying seems to hold true in my life, especially since getting accepted to medical school. To provide you with context, I live at home with my parents, grandmother and 3 younger siblings. We are a very close-knit family, so everyone is involved in each other's business. Sometimes it becomes overbearing, though, and I wish I could have my alone time. Unfortunately that alone time does not exist in my world. I am the only person in my family with a university degree, so I often feel like no one can relate with my school-related struggles. When I have free time, my mother often tasks me with cooking dinner, helping my brothers with their math homework, or driving my grandmother to her evening pottery classes. I am the eldest, I am dedicating my life to serving others, I am the future doctor. Even when I'm tired, I can't say no. I can't let them down because I know they are counting on me. Unfortunately, by not setting boundaries, I am the one suffering."
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Becoming a kind leader of your wellness
The topic of interest, addressing physician burnout and distress, is viewed from a positive solution perspective. The ingredients to success and well-being that are presented on this site are derived from the most common needs expressed by the medical students and physicians we encounter. They also obviously draw heavily on the authors' own experiences. We want to share with others the advice we wish we had known when we started our studies or careers. Most of us have learned what is presented on this site, through experience, trial and error or through challenges we had no choice but overcome. It is best to avoid these forced learnings, as they are often very expensive.
There is a tradition of solidarity, collegiality and caring in medicine. We hope that you will not have to go through the same ordeal or that it will be possible to better anticipate them. As we never stop learning about biomedical sciences, we never stop learning about ourselves. This site therefore also represents the process of growth and self-care for its authors.
You are not alone.
This website aims to address a topic that is essential, yet seldom discussed among healthcare professionals: self-compassion. Here, we discuss the importance of self care and provide ways to incorporate it into our daily routines. We also hope to connect medical professionals in their personal struggles and create an open dialogue about these vulnerabilities.