Physician Mom Wellness: Listening to our Inner Voice & Setting Boundaries for Ourselves
Today was a national holiday. Most businesses were closed including mine, but the daycare was open. After a long and very full weekend with my 2 year old (who has a social life much more robust than my own), I had a lot to catch up on. When I found out that his daycare was open, I thought "Perfect, I'll just take him for half a day and I can get some work done."
That morning we slept in, watched an episode of Little Einstein's (his favorite), and then it was time to take him to school. As I got him up to get dressed I felt a pull in my chest... a nagging.
There was a strong part of me that didn't want to take him in. I wanted that extra time with my son. However, my business brain rationalized that I had gotten no work done this weekend, and I needed to catch up today or I would fall even further behind. So, pushing my mommy emotions aside, I got my son ready and we hopped in the car to make our way to Kids R Kids. In the car, revelations tend to come, as no more than 5 minutes in the car I realized that the world would not stop if I took today off. My son is more important than a few charts and a blog article. In that moment I decided we were not going to school, and instead we were going to visit my mom and dad instead. As we took the detour, my heart seemed to settle as I listened to my son singing "Old MacDonald" happily in the back seat. I joined in and knew that I had made the right choice.
We as physicians are hard wired for hard work, and sometimes that comes at the cost of our families. We, especially as physician moms, ignore the little voices and the heart tugs, and we sacrifice quality time for productivity. However, what most physicians fail to realize is that if you dropped dead today, the world would keep turning. Your hospital or practice would find coverage, your patients would get seen, your students and residents would get taught, and what would be left are the regrets of a grieving family who wished they had had more time to spend with the one they loved. Morbid truth, yes, and the fact remains that sometimes you need to listen to something other than the indoctrination that has you work when work is not called for.
I was speaking to a group of residents this past week about creating balance in a system that pulls for everything except that. One of the residents, a mom, expressed her upset that she sometimes had to "break the rules" to get time with her family. I applauded that she, this early in her career, saw the importance of prioritizing her family. Yet, her point that the system is not set up for us to be anything but overwhelmed, overworked and exhausted was completely valid. How often neglected is wellness in doctors and especially physician mom wellness. Until the Quadruple Aim is truly actualized in our organizations, we will have to take it upon ourselves to prioritize what is important to us.
In a session with one of my coaching clients (young Dr. Mommy of 2) about setting boundaries at work, she reflected to me that she was most liked by the staff because she "stayed as long as she needed to after her shift was over to get the work done." As we discussed what structures we could implement that would have her leave work closer to when her shift ended, she began to express her guilt and concern for "dumping" on her colleagues if she left on time. What was ironic was that in the next minute she revealed that her colleagues had no problem leaving their shifts on time and checking patients out to the next person coming on (especially when it was her). This state of un-resourceful guilt that we as women and mothers often feel is a piece of what also keeps us from listening to and acting on our need for quiet and quality time with the ones we love.
Of course, I'm not advocating that you completely neglect your responsibilities and increase the burden on others to have your way. I'm simply stating that wellness in physician moms is of particular importance, and we can stand to listen to those little voices and heart tugs that long to be with our families and children more often. I know that physician stress and burnout is multifactorial, however there are some things that are simple that we can do. Let your days off be days off. Let your holidays be holidays. You will likely be more satisfied, focused, and productive going back to work knowing that you listen to your heart's desire for once.
Be A Part of the Solution. If you like it, Please Share it. And if you would like to learn more about how we create breakthroughs for physicians, visit www.stressfreemommd.com. Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician and physician wellness coach and trainer. She is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away.