Self-care for clinicians has never been more important, especially now as we adjust to a new normal in this long-drawn fight against COVID-19. But why do clinicians find it difficult to practise and prioritise self-care despite acknowledging its importance?
We spoke with
Dr Andrew Ong (Programme Director, Gastroenterology) and
Dr Joanne Quah (Programme Director, Family Medicine) on why incorporating self-care can be challenging for clinicians today and how they continue to care for themselves in stressful moments.
I would think that there are different kinds of challenges from each stage of a medical student’s journey to becoming a clinician. As a student, the major hurdle would be to focus on studying and passing my examinations. As a Resident, the stakes are raised to juggle between examinations and clinical work. As a Senior Resident or Associate Consultant, the challenges have evolved beyond examinations and clinical work to include personal commitments too. In retrospect, the transition from a Junior Resident to a Senior Resident was the most challenging period, as it was a time when I was planning to start a family.
I see myself as a fairly resilient person, thanks to my love for the outdoors and travel. In hindsight, I only realised how stressed I was when I started experiencing insomnia several years back. It was a period of time where I was going through some major changes in my work and personal life. I was embarking on two higher degrees concurrently then, namely the Fellowship for the College of Family Physicians Singapore as well as the Master in Clinical Investigation at National University of Singapore (NUS). Also, I had just given birth to my second daughter, as well as taken on a leadership role. Although juggling new responsibilities, life events and academic exams are part and parcel of a busy clinician’s life, having all of them come at the same time was probably the toughest.
I definitely had thoughts of giving up and taking the easy way out by dropping out of Residency training to be a general practitioner (GP) instead. That way, I would still be able to practise Medicine without having to face any training commitments. But I am glad that I hung on, as things did get easier as I started to get familiarised and accustomed to a new role. There are and will always be days where I feel disheartened, but these are also times for me to reflect and restrategise on how I can continue to do my best to thrive in such tough situations.
There were a lot of mixed feelings. While it was exciting to be able to learn new skills and take on new roles, it was also overwhelming to be dealing with these new responsibilities at the same time – both at work and home. It made me realise that I am only human, and I needed to take a step back, give myself space to breathe and recharge.
Work is undoubtedly important, but is it not everything. Beyond my role as a doctor, I am also a son, a father, a husband and a friend. Having a clear set of priorities and recognising things that are important to me has helped me through many difficult periods as I am able to strike a good balance between work and personal commitments.
I couldn’t have done it without the unyielding support of my husband, family as well as my boss who allowed me to work part-time even though it was not a common arrangement then. The people around me has made what originally seemed impossible become possible!
Knowing that we do not have to compromise on our well-being in order to provide the best care for our patients. This is especially so now, since COVID-19 has helped us realise the importance of a clinician’s well-being at work, as well as the impact on the quality of care delivered.
The unnecessary expectations that we as clinicians have of ourselves – or also known as the ‘superhero’ syndrome! We have always been overachievers in our lives, and are used to bulldozing through anything that stands in our way and emerging victorious. Unfortunately, it is precisely this reason that leads us to believe indulging in self-care or the thought of asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure, which we refuse to ‘succumb’ to.
No matter how busy life gets, always find the time to rest. In our line of work, work never ends. Therefore, it is important that we are proactive in managing and caring for our emotional and physical well-being. Through keeping healthy and well, we can provide the best care for our patients.
Do not be afraid to speak out and share your struggles. Reaching out to others to ask for help is not a sign of weakness but strength, as it helps you to see things from another’s perspective that you may have otherwise overlooked.
Ensuring that I set aside time for my loved ones to explore hiking trails in Singapore, which helps to refresh my mind and body, as well as build stronger bonds with my colleagues over a cup of bubble tea!
Keeping a good social network and exercising. Whenever the going gets tough, I take comfort in the company of my loved ones by sharing my struggles and problems with them. This has helped me to feel less alone. Exercising also helps to clear my mind and improves my ability to cope with stressful situations at work.
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