It is a fair assumption by most people that doctors should be among the healthiest people due to their job being about making others healthy. However, in reality this isn’t quite true. As doctors are placed under enormous stress, work too many hours and usually feel a strong sense of duty to their patients to always be available, their physical as well as emotional health tends to fall by the wayside.

As a doctor yourself, you should always try to make your own health the number one priority because as we all know, you can’t look after others if you aren’t well yourself. Remember the airplane rule? Fix your oxygen mask before helping others. It’s a rule that everyone should live their lives by, especially doctors.

High levels of stress and symptoms of burn-out tend to be high on the causes of illness amongst doctors. These problems, if untreated, can lead to other more serious problems such as substance abuse, psychiatric illness, marital and family problems and even suicide. The good news is, if noticed and treated early on, stress and burn-out can be recovered from. The catch is, you have to be aware of it before you can do anything about it.

Of course there are some factors that cannot be changed, such as the nature of the job and the stresses that go with it. But with a bit of self-care, you should be able to manage how you cope with that stress and keep on top of your own emotional well-being. Here are some tips on how to get started:

Self-care doesn’t mean ‘by yourself’

Don’t mistake the title self-care as meaning you are on your own in looking after yourself. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Self-care means putting your own emotional and physical wellbeing first. Often, this is done with the help of other professionals, not by simply trying to be your own doctor. If you are feeling depressed or low, or generally unwell, seek advice from another professional just as you’d tell your own patients to do.

Taking time off

It is well reported and known within the industry that doctors from all areas of medicine are working too many hours. The impact of overworking is huge, not only on physical health but on emotional and mental health as well. Doctors need to put a plan into place to ensure they are getting the time off that they need in order to recover from the stress of work. If this isn’t possible within your current position it might be time to consider other options, such as going locum.

By going locum, you are able to choose how often you work and how much of a break you get between jobs. Taking on one placement at a time gives you the time you need to recover between jobs. Alternatively, you can take on part-time placements so that you don’t get overtired in the first place. By locuming, you can still stay on top of your career progress and earn good money while not burning yourself out.

Doctors are also well-known for not taking leave when they are ill. A survey conducted in the UK showed that 75% of medical practitioners took no sick leave at all, compared to 41% of high school teachers. Even while ill, doctors are prone to mask their symptoms and continue working. For the best self-care, doctors should take the sick leave they are entitled to as the benefits of getting healthy far outweigh pushing through because of the sense of duty you feel to your patients. 

A balanced lifestyle

As part of their self-care, doctors need to practice a healthy lifestyle – just like they are telling their patients to do on a daily basis. Self-care is about sleeping well, eating well and exercising. It is also about having other interests outside of work that helps relieve the stresses of daily professional life. All doctors should ensure they have a hobby they can do on their days off, one that will take their minds completely off their work and help them to relax. Having a hobby helps you to reconnect with the things that are important to you as well as the things that give you joy. It is a way of putting yourself first for a change after many hours of putting all of your patients needs first.

Even if you love your job and that is the thing that gives you the most joy, it is still important to have something else to fall back on outside of work. This can be as simple as reading or playing golf, or as intense as gaining your light aircraft licence. No matter what it is, if it helps you relax and gives you joy it is worth taking some time out to indulge in it at least once a week.

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