Being a physician is rewarding — but it can take a toll on your personal life. There may be no way to avoid that entirely, but here are some of the best ways to release a little steam to avoid total burnout.
1. Practice smart scheduling. Chances are there are certain times of the year when your waiting room is oozing with patients (and other times when it isn't). "Many practices have natural cyclicality," explains healthcare consultant Laurie Morgan of consulting firm Capko & Co. If possible, book your schedule to allow more meaningful time off during low-volume periods — rather than being "trapped" in the office with a light schedule for the full week.
2. Start a hobby. Making time for outside endeavors is often linked with professional satisfaction. So if you enjoy writing, for example, consider creating your own blog, or contributing to another medical blog. Or take a recreational class on something totally unrelated to medicine at your local college.
3. Volunteer. For many physicians, giving back to the community is a great source of satisfaction. Give one day a month to a free clinic in your community — or if you're really adventurous, consider using some vacation time to volunteer with a group like Remote Area Medical, which provides medical care to people in remote areas around the world.
4. Make time for yoga or exercise. You already know that exercise boosts your mood, improves your sleep, and helps you stay trim. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 35 percent of adults ages 18 and older engage in regular leisure-time physical activity. If you don't have time to attend an hour-long boot camp class or train for a marathon, waking up just 30 minutes earlier to play a yoga DVD or take a jog on the treadmill (or around the block) does the trick.
5. Read something nonmedical. Even if you love catching up on ICD-10 code updates and EHR guidelines during your break (or the Practice Notes blog at PhysiciansPractice.com), sometimes getting your head away from thoughts of patients and medical terms is good for your health. Just 10 minutes with a sensational tabloid or a chapter in the latest mystery novel can provide a mental break that'll leave you feeling refreshed.
6. Break for an occasional sweet treat. We don't recommend gorging on candy every time you're stressed. But sometimes it helps to keep your desk drawer stocked with chocolate for a little pick-me-up when the going gets tough, suggests Jennifer Frank, a blogger for Practice Notes. Or, have the local ice-cream store that caters parties visit your office on a predetermined date and time for an end-of-the-day treat, suggests MGMA consultant Rosemarie Nelson.
7. Make time for family. Those who feel the most burned-out tend to be those whose lives are out of balance. To avoid the resentment over an all-work-no-play life, Frank suggests playing with your kids on a daily basis. For physicians with adolescents and teenagers, schedule time for a game of catch or making dinner as a family.
8. Go for a walk during the day. Many physicians say they don't have time to fit a regular exercise program into their busy schedules. But most everyone has time to take a 10-minute walk once a day. If you're just too busy to take that lunchtime stroll, follow the Mayo Clinic's advice and take a 30-minute walk after work to blow off steam. Just remember: Making patient rounds doesn't count!
9. Delegate tasks. Sometimes burnout is a simple case of a physician taking on too many responsibilities. To make your life more manageable, Nelson suggests taking time to delegate tasks that don't require your talents/skills in the clinical area as well as the management arena. This will allow you to spend more time focusing on patient care.
Marisa Torrieri is an associate editor at Physicians Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Physicians Practice.