If there is one thing I have learned over the past 9 months, its that by the end of every day I will be wondering what on earth happened with all my time. Then begins the process of me sitting here trying to think how the hell am I going to manage to do everything I need to do with such little time. It always reminds me of this picture I saw floating around on the internet. The picture shows a triangle, and at each corner there is a description: social life, good grades, and sleep. But you can only choose two. This picture essentially sums up the medical school experience, except occasionally it feels like there can be four or five points to choose from. I really felt this challenge as I transitioned to third year clerkships. I felt like each day I had to juggle all the different things I wanted to get done with my time. More often than not, no matter how well I managed my time, though, I would come up short each day. And while some rotations were lighter where I have been able to get a lot done, most ended up being the same. After finishing up at the hospital that day, you are left with a list of things you could want to do but only enough time to achieve so few of them. Whether its shopping, cooking, working out, relaxing, studying, or gaming, all medical professionals have to decide each day what they will do with their precious time. And really, in medicine, time becomes the most precious commodity out there. You can’t buy it. You can’t sell it. You can’t even get a loan for more. No, the simple fact is that there are only 24 hours in the day and you have to decide what you will do with that. Of course this is a personal decision and, in fact, this might be easy for some people to choose. Some might choose to spend most of it studying, but others might spend more working out. But it’s this daily struggle to decide what to do with my sacred free time that I really wasn’t prepared to do.
Now I’m the type of person that finds great enjoyment in doing a variety of things, which is mainly where my problem stems from. This lead me down the road of rarely being able to achieve everything I want to get done. I can say that I have spent a great deal of my time over the past two and a half years studying harder than I ever have, so that I can hopefully attend a great residency. But with that hard work came a lot of sacrifice. Particularly, my love for gaming has taken a hit. It’s been a difficult decision to make over the years since gaming has played such a crucial role in my life. It’s helped me relax when I was stressed, provided an escape from the harsh realities of my day, and even provided a way for me to stay connected with my brother even though he lives 400 miles away. The thought of giving something up that has held so much meaning in my life was difficult. But what was I to do? Could I really give up an hour of my day to play games? Well, it turns out, you really can.
Being in the business of medicine means that we are constantly caring about other people, their needs, and their illnesses. But because we are so often focused on other people every day, it can become so easy to forget about ourselves and our needs. I have seen so many doctors completely neglect to eat, drink water, or even go to the bathroom because they are too busy. Really people? Come on! If you aren’t a healthy health care worker, mentally and physically, then how are we to provide the best of care for our patients? I have had so many classmates over the past year completely abandon hobbies that they’ve had because they felt that all they needed to do was study. And while this is a personal decision, I also think that it may also not be the best decision for your mental health. These are the classmates I tend to see halfway through the semester dragging themselves along, looking lost and having a look of despair in their eyes. I swear at any moment that they could break. This is the type of person I don’t want to become. Sure, I’ll admit it. There have been times where maybe I neglected some self-care because I felt like I had too much to do or too much to study. I think we are all guilty of this. But is this really what you want on a daily basis? Do you want to feel like you are slowly losing your sanity and that your life completely revolves around medicine? For me, I have loved medicine, and it has been my dream since I was a kid. But that doesn’t mean my entire life has to be medicine. I cannot become a machine who just cranks out his work daily, goes home to slave away at more work, and returns back to work to start again. No, I will not be a shell of myself, so if that means I need to take a break then I sure as hell will.
As I sit here and write this piece with my dwindling spare time I thought to myself, what exactly is the point I am trying to make here? Well, if you are going to get one thing from my writing, let it be this: medicine does a fantastic job at stretching you beyond your limits and it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. But it will stress you out, make you doubt yourself, and leave you feeling lost at times. At some point you will feel like you are just grinding your days away, going from the hospital to home, sleeping, studying, and eating, then going right back to the hospital to start the whole cycle again. It can be mind-numbing and even insanity producing.
It’s when we reach this crossroad in life that it is most important to be able to take a step back, take a breath, and have an outlet. Something that can help you relax, take your mind off of your stressful life and to remind you that there are still pleasures in life to enjoy. For a large portion of my life, this has been gaming. The games I played allowed me to escape my reality, even if just for an hour, and allowed me to live in a different world where I could forget about my troubles. For everyone else it doesn’t even have to be gaming. It can be absolutely anything that helps you relax. Whatever it is, just give yourself that little bit of precious time to do what you need to do. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that say, dude I already do this! Well, if that’s the case, that’s awesome, but plenty of med students and doctors still need to hear this message. It’s this valuable time we spend relaxing that you should never give up, because these are the things that are going to keep you going on those days when you feel useless, terrible, and burnt out. Recent studies have shown that doctor burnout continues to grow each year. I’m sure much of it has to do with the politics of the system along with an increased workload, but I can’t help but think some of this might relate to what I’ve been talking about. Even closer to me, there have been many stories this year of medical students committing suicide, due to them not being able to take the pressure. It pains me to hear these stories. Such young, talented students driven to such extreme measures from the stressors we have put on us every day. There is a lot of work needed to address these problems, but I can’t help but think maybe some of these students weren’t thinking about themselves. They were too worried about grades or exams. They neglected their mental health, and in the end it cost them their lives.
So to the doctors, fellow medical students, nurses, PAs, and honestly anyone else who reads this, please take some time for yourself today. I cannot stress this point enough. Please just think of your mental health. Even if the only thing you can spare is fifteen minutes just sitting doing nothing, then do nothing. I promise you that taking just an hour out of your day to relax will not result in you failing out of medical school, and it will not result in you failing as future doctor. I’d argue that it’s even going to make you a better doctor. I can’t imagine what would have happened to my sanity if I didn’t take an hour every day to just decompress and let my brain chill. As I adventure further into my final year of medical school, I try to remind myself that it isn’t so bad to sit down every now and then, kick back my recliner, and enjoy some gaming. Sometimes, it’s exactly what the doctor orders. A little rest and relaxation will do us all good. So go ahead, take your time and relax. Medicine, and the rest of the world will be there tomorrow.