Collectively, too many healthcare professionals have a certain maladaptive mindset when it comes to their own health and healthcare. To varying degrees, the internal script goes something like this:
I’m too busy to see to see to my own healthcare needs.
My patients need me more than I need me.
I will always know when I need help.
My special knowledge will protect me.
I will always be well.
I am my own best doctor.
Illness is a sign of weakness.
Patient care always trumps self-care.
Sure, I’m depressed but I’ll just deal with it in my own way.
I know I’m sick but I have to go in to work.
All the good I do will protect me.
Any health problems I may develop are too far off into the future to worry about now.
These attitudes are inculcated into us throughout medical school and residency. They also come from the prevailing public notion of what a doctor is supposed to be, mostly driven by non-reality based Hollywood fiction.
So, dauntless, we put on our cloaks of invincibility, project the proper doctor persona, and carry on. Despite these attitudes, every provider currently training or in practice will one day take off the white coat and assume the role of patient.
This will happen, because all providers are human. Whether now or sometime in the future, we will experience the same medical maladies and infirmities as our patients. It can seem an especially cruel circumstance to a medical professional who has spent a lifetime seeing to the healthcare needs of others.
Doctors are great when it comes to caring for others, but they are not always so great at taking care of themselves. Far too many physicians and PAs get into trouble and end up before the Medical Board or at NCPHP because they chose to be their own providers and self-medicate rather than seek help from independent qualified professionals.
Burnout rates are extremely high and rising. When physicians burn out they will sometimes act out—with drugs, alcohol or maladaptive behaviors. Depression can develop or deepen. Of course, the most serious way providers act out is with self-harm. Suicide rates among healthcare providers are alarmingly higher than the in the general population, especially among women.
We must become humble enough and love ourselves enough to accept our own humanity. Self-care must become a priority for every provider. The following changes to attitude and that “internal script” are all that is required:
Asking for help when I need it is a sign of strength.
I need my own trusted healthcare provider and I will follow his or her advice.
Sometimes I need to listen to what those around me are noticing because I may not always be able to see what others see in me.
My own health comes first because I can’t be the best doctor for my patients if I’m not healthy and at my best.
I will never be so busy that I can’t see to my own needs.
I will never serve as my own healthcare provider.
If I get sick I’ll follow my provider’s prudent advice.
Everyone wants to achieve a state of wellness, and wellness begins with self-care. How can you determine where you are on the self-care scale? Ask yourself this one important question: Am I as great at taking care of myself as I am at caring for my patients? If the honest answer is no, it is time to turn away from the path of least resilience (pun intended) and make some changes. You, your patients, your family, and your community will be the better for it.