By Dr. Shreya Doshi
“You are a bright, grown-up girl now, almost 15-years old. You must take ownership of yourself and your body and look after your physical, mental, and emotional health. Eating healthy food, making healthier choices, exercising even if just for 30 minutes, and reaching out to the therapist again will go a long, long way.” This is the kind of advice I was giving my teenage patient last week during continuity clinic, and the kind of advice I am sure you give out too, no matter what specialty you are in. However, sometimes it feels hypocritical. As a resident physician, I wonder how many times a week do you give advice to your patients that perhaps also applies to you?
Moving to a new country is an enormous change. I grew up in Mumbai, in a very large family, and moved away from home only last year, right before the beginning of the intern year of my pediatrics residency. This residency was something I have always wanted and I am grateful for the opportunity. But sometimes, after a long day in the busy ward, when I come home exhausted to my studio apartment and have to choose between getting some sleep or eating frozen food, I do miss home dearly. I miss even the chaos of home, along with the aroma of fresh warm food from the kitchen and just being around family. The time difference does not help either, and I fall asleep with the phone over my ear, as my mother asks me how my day was. To be honest, what you do with the little free time you have during a busy rotation during the intern year is a tough choice. I am certain we all have felt this way. And I share my story to tell you that you are not alone in this.
We are often well supported by our training programs, in terms of having mentors and seniors at work who can help us adapt to a new healthcare system, a new country, new culture, and our new role as a resident physician, which is great. So many changes are happening around us in the hospital, but we often do not talk about the changes outside of the hospital. It could be our experience living alone for the first time, being away from close friends and family, trying to cook, trying to learn how to drive, trying to learn a new language, or trying to figure out how to buy insurance for the first time. Please do not belittle any of those struggles, and give yourself some credit! Transitions are tough and you are doing a great job!
During residency, we tend to make our work lives so important that we forget who we are outside of that. But you cannot pour from an empty cup. So if you feel like it is a bumpy ride, please speak to a therapist or trusted mentor. Many of us belong to cultures where therapy is not a norm and is not easily available. However, it needs to be normalized. A therapist will listen to you and help you transition. They will tell you it is all right to feel the way you are feeling. That acknowledgment might help you grow some more confidence. They may tell you that you are doing an amazing job and that residency is tough, but you are strong too. They may help you look back at the amazing journey in medicine you have made to finally be here, and help you appreciate all that you have accomplished!
Similarly, establishing care with a primary care physician for yourself is very important. An annual physical examination is the bare minimum I am asking from you, for you. I can’t remember how many excuses I have made not to exercise, even on days that I had time. Eating unhealthy food, especially all the chocolates and donuts during Halloween, and during the holiday season, made me wish sometimes I heard some of my own advice. We like to ignore self-care and put it on the back burner as physicians, however it cannot be ignored for long. Someday it will affect you in some way. So please do not procrastinate. Make that appointment that you need for yourself. Take the time needed for self-healing. Take that online dance class. Try that new healthy recipe you saw online. Push yourself to do that exercise routine at home every day.
Socializing with coworkers can be challenging, given different schedules and the current COVID-19 situation. So what do you do when you feel like you do not have friends in this new city? Try nevertheless. Go for a hike with a fellow resident. Try that socially-distanced outdoor Zumba class in the park. An online book club is a great idea, too! Do whatever it takes so that you are in the best health—physically, mentally, and emotionally. You have the power to impact lives and heal so many other lives; therefore you must take care of yourself first.
I know this sounds like a lot of advice, but your future self will definitely thank you for this. Remember that you are more than your role of being an amazing doctor. Please ask yourself today about what you would like to add to your schedule, for the next block, to be better at self-care. Ask yourself… is self-care on your to-do list? If not, the time for change is now!