Archive for tag: balance

A Change in Adventure

Life's adventures are changing. While in medical school, I knew that my adventure was to make it through all those exams and cram all that information in my brain. Now that I'm on the tail end of school, beginning life as a doctor is the new adventure. But, at one point I thought once school was over I'd be right back to more typical adventures -- trips in the outdoors, flights to distant places for travel on the cheap, festivals and camping, and any number of parties that filled my life before medical school. Now, I'm realizing that the adventures I'm going to have over these next many years may seem tamer, but they are no less life changing.

A gorgeous sunny day out skiing before the resorts close for the season.

Hanzi and I pinky swore we'd have an adventure once we finished grad and med school. He reminded me of this the other day; not that I think I needed much reminding -- I'm all for it!

My recent big decisions involving the unknown are in sharing the responsibility of another's well-being, in addition to deciding which place to move to next. I've always said I like to operate outside of my comfort zone, and thank goodness that's the case, because doctoring means doing that every day, especially at this point. I'm learning that there can be just as much puzzlement and curiosity involved in doctoring as there is in setting off on a trail into the mountains I've never hiked before. It's a different kind of thing, of course, but it's just as engaging. 

Contemplating the Beartooth Mountains during a break in my ski day.

I'm learning to define adventure not only as time spent without showering, cooking over a camp stove, sleeping in a tent, or clinging to a mountainside, but also as time spent puzzling through another person's story to connect the dots and bring about better health. It's certainly not every person who identifies with adventures in the outdoors, but I'm sure every new doctor's understanding of their place in a community changes as they begin to take on their professional role. It's a conversation I've had recently with one of the residents here at YNC -- the balance between holding your professional values close, and finding ways to connect with the people in your community. It's part of growing up, and especially, growing into a confident doctor.

Drove northwest to Helena through spectacular scenery for a residency interview last week.

Part of my everyday adventure is making other people feel well enough that they are capable of having their own daily adventures. And what greater reward? Because hiking mountains and skiing slopes only translates into doing something for others when I am getting outside to maintain or rejuvenate my own heart. If I were to spend all my days gallivanting around the hills and the globe, feeling cold snow on my face, or rough rock under my fingertips, I would be missing an essential part of adventure, of life, which is to do something for someone other than myself. Even better if I can do things for many someones beside myself! I know I'm meant to serve people as a naturopath, and to serve them best I've got to keep adventure alive in both my body and my brain.

So I guess this post is about realizing the aspects of our personality that we need to keep alive while in the midst of changing ourselves and our presentation to match that of a doctor. There's a lot of responsibility involved in fostering the connections we make as doctors. Learning to balance personal life with professional strengths and ethics seems like it might be just as central to developing as a doctor as is learning to diagnose disease.

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.

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."

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.