Monday, March 5, 2012

How Eighties Rock May Help Me Become A Better Doc

It's a Monday evening, and I should be studying the intricacies of the gastrointestinal system. A couple weeks ago was the last of 6-week period where my classmates and I endured an exam every week. At first it wasn't too bad, but it quickly burned us out

Recently I have had a lot of conversations about the stress of medical school, and the career that follows. One of the first things we were told during orientation week last semester was that it is possible and, in fact, important to maintain some sort of existence outside of our studies. That was an encouraging message, but as we progressed through classes, it became more and more difficult. And even I, a guy who once prided himself on being optimistic and maintaing a positive outlook (see my September blog entries), have become very cynical, and more prone to fits of frustrated anger. I was just getting through material to pass the next exam, and even seeing patients was just a "let's-get-through-this-and-get-out-of-here" experience.

And it was between exams five and six earlier this semester that a friend of mine pointed me towards a very insightful TEDTalk she had recently found.

At timestamp 5:45 is where it got especially real for us. We realized how much it resonated with us - yes, grades are obviously important, and the mental anguish brought on by medical school is a necessary evil. But your brain in a positive state is 31% more productive than at negative/neutral/stressed?! Doctors are 19% more efficient and accurate?!

In another conversation, a friend of mine told me she wasn't sure if she could handle being a doctor because she would be hopelessly devoted to her patients to the point of burnout, and if she tried to take care of herself, she would feel that she was inadequate in caring for her patients. On the radio later came the .38 Special song, "Hold On Loosely." Go YouTube it, because it's a great song. But the chorus, which inspired me on this subject, goes like this:

"Just hold on loosely/
and don't let go/
if you cling too tightly/
you're gonna lose control./
Your baby needs someone to believe in/
and a whole lot of space to breathe in."

I've been told by numerous doctors (both on TV and in real life) that we cannot live and die by our patients alone. We have to do our very best to care for them, but at the end of the day, we have to make sure we keep our own well-being in mind as well. Our career, "our baby" in the case of "Hold On Loosely," can't be clung to so tightly that no room is left for us. Doctors who stop caring about their own happiness end up burning out quickly, and like Dr. Achor discusses, they are scientifically proven to be worse at their jobs.

So I'm trying to turn my negativity streak around, because like Dr. Achor, I feel truly blessed to be where I am now, slaving away in medical school. So I'm trying to see more of the good in the world, and trying to find a happiness in my work, even as I spend long hours studying. [Edit: Along the same lines, I gave up swearing for Lent. So much harder than I thought it would be.] Easier said than done, but I need all the brain productivity I can get. :)