Physician, heal thyself

Physician heal thyself is a phrase lifted from the Bible – Luke 4:23 to be precise. This phrase has since been taken out of its original context and used in various ways. The most literal of these being to advise healthcare professionals to look after themselves.

Now this raises the question – “why do healthcare workers need this advice?”. Working in healthcare by definition means you think about the needs of other people A LOT. Naturally, a large proportion of the people attracted to this sector will be people who have a natural tendency to do this. However, like with most things in life, balance is key and it is not the easiest of things to achieve. Time after time, healthcare workers are not able to take breaks, have meals on time (or at all), or leave way past a shifts end because – dare I say it – they care too much. Expectations of the public definitely do not help, and sometimes I think people forget that the NHS is made up of humans just like them. You don’t get superpowers with your NHS contract, just a healthy Nando’s discount and an unhealthy monthly parking bill.

Jokes aside, the amount of stress healthcare workers face is very high and looking to a post – covid NHS where there will be months of backlog with regards to routine services like clinics, non-urgent surgeries, GP appointments and so on, it is only bound to get worse. Bearing this in mind, it is more important now than ever before for us to take five (metaphorically, realistically you need and deserve more than five minutes, okay) and recharge the ol’ batteries. With that being said, here are some of my tips for self-care:

  1. Never feel guilty about taking a break: News flash – you are not indispensable. Don’t get me wrong, you are one of a kind, but in a professional capacity you can be replaced. If you let yourself get burnt out to a point where you break down and cannot bear the weight of the job anymore, the job will still be there. If you work at your maximum ability and try to do every job under the sun,  the job will still be there and there will ALWAYS be things to do. So, take a break – it doesn’t make a difference
  2. Keep up your hobbies: Not sure about other healthcare workers, but I know all you doctors/medical students wrote all about your hobbies and how they’ve prepared you for a life of service in the NHS in your personal statements. Well, now is not the time to give them up. “I just don’t have the time” I hear you say. Well, as with all things in life, make time! There is so much more to life than medicine, and we have so much more to give. A lot of doctors I know are also the most talented artists I’ve ever seen. To refer to another bible story (can you tell I was raised in a Christian home yet?) don’t bury your talents!
  3. Talk: My last tip, but also the most important, is talk. Healthcare workers talk all the time, it’s part of the job. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Let people know how you’re feeling. Tell them how much stress you feel, let them know when your day is going great. When someone asks you how you’re doing, don’t just reflexively go “Fine, you?” – stop for a minute, think and give an honest answer. You’d be surprised how much people actually care, and how many people feel the same way. Also, talking honestly about our feelings, helps us face our emotions and understand ourselves better.

Author:  Dr Michael Odunyemi
I’m Michael Odunyemi an F1 doctor at Medway Hospital. I studied medicine at Kings College London, where I also intercalated in Psychology. My life journey has taken me to Nigeria and a few spots in the UK, but south London will always be home. I’m a textbook nerd – love my video games, anime and superheroes. Looking to board the next train to GP land, but also keeping my options open

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