How to Take Care of Yourself as a Medical Resident

If you’ve recently Matched into a medical residency program as a foreign medical graduate (FMG) or are just beginning the Match process, then you have been warned about burnout syndrome. This warning came not because of your status as an FMG but rather the overwhelming amount of residents and medical doctors who leave the profession because of burnout.

Burnout is described as mental fatigue caused by constant stressors. Stressors during the first year of residency may come from adjusting to a new location, missing family, large workloads and learning/studying demands. Additionally, physicians are expected to exercise empathy with patients in order to provide better quality care. This caring for others is essential but does take a toll on the physician’s self-care.

The results of burnout do not affect the resident only. While new physicians may experience depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep and co-existing effects of burnout, patients also suffer. Evaluation and treatment from a provider who is burned out will not have the same level of quality. The provider may not have the focus necessary to make a diagnosis, and they may lack the empathy to deliver care in a way that fits the situation. In more extreme cases, the resident will leave the career path. All of that hard work for nothing.

As a new medical resident, you might think that burnout is not in your future. Especially after getting Matched, you’re likely pumped up and ready to get in there and practice medicine. This is normal, and you should be proud and excited, but don’t forget that you need to care for yourself during this time. Preparation and studying is essential to a successful residency. Also essential is self-care. A little focus on yourself will make your hard work less of a stressor, and you will reap many rewards in the form of motivation and mental health.

Ten Ways to Take Care of Yourself as a Medical Resident

  1. Have a hobby:

Your hobby should not be your career. Since you’ve made it this far, you are likely very passionate about medicine. However, this isn’t what your colleagues are going to want to talk about at dinner parties (at least not the entire time). Not having anything else can remove your sense of self, and it can make you feel beholden to your career at an unhealthy level. You are not a physician only. You are a person who happens to be a physician. Right now that might be hard to believe, but if you have a hobby, you’ll get some of that back. Part of the reason burnout happens is because physicians get absorbed by their careers leaving very little left of the actual person.

  1. Live with people:

Another reason for burnout is that much of medicine is emotionally charged. You will deal with death and grief, pain and suffering. It takes its toll, and you need to talk about it. Living alone is a perfect way to sink into solitude and depression, but having a couple roommates will save you. They will not only notice your slippage into the doldrums, but they are there to lend their shoulders or simply their ears. Especially if you’ve moved away, having these types of connections can be very good for emotional health. If you are a private person, make sure you have your own private areas.

  1. Exercise:

As a physician, you know about the health effects of exercise. Don’t forget about the mental health benefits. If you can do it outside, even better.

  1. Journal:

Much like communicating with others, expressing yourself on paper is an excellent stress reliever. This is particularly important when you can’t really talk about certain situations aloud.

  1. Start a project:

Much like a hobby, a project is a distraction from your career and a reminder that you are more than your position in the medical field. Any project, even doing your backed up laundry, can have a meditative effect. At the end, you get a normal, everyday sense of accomplishment without the stressful grandeur that medical accomplishment can sometimes create.

  1. Eat and drink healthily:

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and fast food. If you eat healthy, your mind will thank you. You’ll be less likely to suffer volatile emotions, and you’ll be able to persevere during those long nights and trying circumstances.

  1. Sleep:

Yes, you can sleep as a resident. And you should…any time you get. Long hours happen, but ensuring that you get enough sleep is important for your physical and mental health.

  1. Engage in leisure:

Leisurely activities are closely connected to well being. This isn’t to dissuade a person from hard work and studying habits, but even the grueling expected work of being a resident needs to be coupled with some leisurely activities.

  1. Meditate:

If you haven’t practiced meditation, it is a great way to center yourself and awaken your mind to the positive aspects of life. Finishing an effective episode of meditation is like taking a huge breath of fresh air. It is cleansing and invigorating.

  1. Laugh:

In the midst of everything, don’t forget to laugh. It truly is the best medicine for physician burnout. Get together with friends, watch funny movies, and tell jokes! Life is too short to live without laughter.

Residency is not easy, and you won’t have time to fit all of these activities in between the necessary demands of your career. But try to do some of them, and don’t forget to take care of yourself during this incredible and rewarding journey.