Physician-to-Be Heal Thyself

Last week I mentioned the principle of Physician Heal Thyself, a concept we discuss in our first trimester of school in our Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine class. To my fellow students reading this blog, when's the last time you pulled out those notes? Reading Dr. Lou and Dr. Draus' words and the notes I made in the margins reminded me of all the other-than-science things we learn and must continue to learn. As Dr. Draus reminded us, this is neither the first nor the last time we will learn anatomy, physiology, etc., and it's not the first time we learn about the importance of self-care.

I drove past the gym on my way home from school a few days ago and wondered how I had managed to get there to work out every other day while I was studying for boards and attending classes, but how I had somehow lost the time to go after I took that huge test. So, I made it a point to go and aaaahhhhhh it felt soooooo good!

I sat on a stool in the locker room after my workout and sauna feeling like melted gold, and as I stared at my satisfied self in the mirror, I realized, going to the gym needs to be a priority on my weekly agenda.

2015-04-03_workout
Post-workout, reminded of the feel-good power of a workout

Physicians do not have a good track record of self-care. As a whole, physicians are statistically more likely to be depressed, sick, commit suicide, become addicted to or abuse substances. We are more likely to have tendencies towards perfection and yet, as Dr. Lou put it, there is no such thing as perfect medicine. As physicians we must walk a fine, exhausting line between using objectivity and engaging our emotions to care for our patients. The profession as a whole has trouble taking time off, and we rarely get a sense of closure or achievement as the process of healing is never complete. And then there are the inevitable financial pressures as we struggle to maintain an expensive business while still finding ways to offer care to all of those in need.

Dr. Lou reminded us in her Tri 1 lecture that we should take a page from our own book when we ask our patients to please take care of themselves so that they can take care of others; we must do the same. It makes me think of my father's wise words that I hold close: "You cannot truly love someone unless you love yourself." Well, as a physician, you cannot truly help someone unless you help yourself. To this end, Dr. Lou reminds us that "Self-care is not an indulgence -- it is a responsibility to the work and to your patients."

Part of self-care involves cultivating interests outside of medicine. We should all remember from our neurology and psychology classes that a healthy brain works on a wide range topics, skills, and problems. By diversifying our activities and interests, we support healthy neuronal growth and limit our risk of diseases of the brain. Robert Heinlein, a bright and controversial science fiction writer, once wrote:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

2015-04-03_toast
Champagne and conversation self-care, toasting boards results and registering for clinic!

Now, I've got a lot to work on based on that list, but I'll allow that building a fort out of sticks and pine boughs might count as designing a building, and conning a ship could include paddling a solo canoe, and so I've achieved some of these things in their smaller forms. The point of sharing this quote is to remind us students and future students of medicine that we should make time, however miniscule an amount, to engage in things other than learning our profession. And yet, we should also remember that right now our job is to be students of medicine and that requires a lot of us. It demands that we spend an extra amount of time with this subject and this set of skills, for the time being. Believe it or not, a time will come when I can get exercise by hiking and skiing rather than biking indoors at the gym. Until then, I'll take the time to care for myself in the ways I can, within the limitations of the task at hand, and I know this will make me better at my job.