Prof Desmond O’Neill: “Physician, heal thyself”
The old saying that “the cobblers’ children are never shod” holds particularly true for medicine. Our high levels of education and readiness to dispense good advice to others notwithstanding, we tend to harbour unhelpful attitudes to our own health. Arising from our related traits of deferred gratification and self-reliance, we are less likely to seek healthcare, often self-treat http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12964913, and experience increasing levels of burnout as our careers progress https://www.rcpe.ac.uk/sites/default/files/lee_5.pdf.
While deferred gratification and self-reliance were agents which facilitated entry to, and completion of, our studies and training, they can add to our woes if overly persisting in our developing and maturing careers. The key to responding to these challenges is developing a practice which is both reflective and engaged, finding our individual and collective paths to delineate and respond to the stresses that we encounter every day in work.
While much stress is externally-generated, we often fail to recognize our potential for controlling other elements, such as difficulties in articulating and negotiating the work-home balance http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26538002, or those arising from engagement with private practice, research or professional bodies.
Developments in medical education, such as the medical humanities and training in communication and health psychology, are useful platforms for developing reflective practice for future generations of doctors. We may also under-value, or under-use, our professional bodies such the Medical Council, the IMO and training colleges, to help shape the climate within which we practice. Finally, occupational health services are finding firmer purchase within healthcare settings. The sum product of these changes is a climate which is more open than thirty years ago to admissions of vulnerability and doubt.
So, at a personal level, for those caught in the complex web of practice, take time now to re-think your work-home-leisure balance, and question the adaptability of your own contributions to the stresses of professional life. Re-engage with culture, sport and social acquaintances – I have just joined a choir after a thirty year absence!
But also realize that we are not alone, and seek out collegial support both locally and through our professional groupings to channel collective response to the system-wide stresses that undermine healthy and satisfying practice.