Life lessons As A Doctor

Life as a doctor

It’s easy to believe that life after medical school is much easier. But, life as a doctor is tough – mentally and physically.

It’s important to learn lessons at each stage of life. In fact, we gain so many skills, principles and knowledge from our careers each year, that they serve as valuable tools for our future. I have learnt many life lessons as a doctor. However, these are some of the ones that stand out the most. I hope you enjoy reading them.

"We learn of great things by little experiences." - Bram Stoker

1.The power of influence

As a physician, you’ll have much more influence on another person than you could imagine. Doctors are often respected. 

Actually, people will ask and even listen to your advise even for non-medically related issues.

Unfortunately, this power of influence can be used for both good or bad.

And sometimes it’s hard to separate the two; particular when it relates to ‘outside pressures.’

Outside pressures including politics, professional rivalries, advertisements and the media are part of life as a doctor.

And, unfortunately, these can affect your profession in a negative way.

Life lesson as a doctor: It’s imperative to remain grounded in the  type of influence you’d like to create and the factors/persons that you allow to influence your actions. And, to know that the two are often not mutually exclusive. 

2.Staying true to your values

It’s extremely important to always remain true to your values. At the very least, this will allow you to sleep better at nights.

There are many areas where you will face moral dilemmas. In fact, you may even be pressured to decide between profit and what you believe is right.

Standing up against the status quo is not easy. It’s important to advocate for your patients especially if their voices are being ignored.

Unfortunately, this is often forgotten in the face of overwhelming power and influence.

Discover the life lessons I learnt as a doctor
"Only a life lived  for others is a life worthwhile." - Albert Einstein

Life lesson as a doctor: Your values will determine how you live your life. It dictates where you go and what you do with it. Letting someone else decide your values will often lead to consequences that are not in line with who you really are.

3.Don’t take the easy way out

Particularly for the early years of your career, don’t take the easy way out.

If it is that you’re sure of the type of residency you’d like to pursue, make the extra sacrifice to get as much exposure and opportunity in that area as possible.

This may mean continuing to do presentations, travelling a bit further or grasping any opportunity for first-hand experience.

After going through medical school, it’s easy to want to resort to a slower pace.

And that’s okay as well. But make sure that you’d be satisfied just in case you have to remain there.

Life lesson as a doctor: Even if you take a break. Don’t get tired of putting in the work to get what you want. Never settle for less than you want to be. 

4.Unnecessary cycle of pressure

Doctors aren’t always the most compassionate people. Perhaps this is due to the rigorous training,  constant pressure or the number of difficult situations they are exposed to.

In fact, because many physicians had to work long hours – even despite being sick, under suboptimal conditions, they will expect all other colleagues to do the same.

Actually, some senior physicians may be reluctant to positive change; thus continuing the unnecessary cycle to pressure and burnout.

Of course, the conditions and environment would vary both between and within countries.

It will also vary depending on the type of doctor and seniority. But, in many places too little is done to curb burnout among physicians.

According to an article by Jenkins (2009), a Medical Director and Senior Clinician, there has been some positive changes relating to the working conditions of doctors.

However, for the most part “the stresses” have only changed, not disappeared. Each phase of the career is filled with it’s own challenges.

Physician suicide, especially among female doctors, still continues to be high and is in fact, twice as high as the general population.

There is also high rates of mental illness and substance abuse among physicians.

Life lesson as a doctor: You may not be able to significantly effect change when you’re starting. But once you’ve reached a position of authority, make sure that you’re not part of the problem; but rather the solution.

5.Communication is one of the most important skills

It’s not only important in your professional life, but also for a happy personal life. Communication entails imparting clear, concise, understandable information.

However, it is also the skill of not confusing persons with unnecessary information and at the same time not leaving out any important details.

Plus, non-verbal communication is equally important particularly since you’ll be dealing with people when their likely most vulnerable.

Often the simplest, seemingly insignificant statement will leave a lasting impression on your patients.

You have to be intentional about effective communication until it comes naturally.

Use this link to check out my tips for becoming an effective communicator.

Life lesson as a doctor: Be careful with the words you convey. Through communication you can foster better relationships and have a positive long-lasting effect on others.

Have a track record for excellence
"Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire." - Jennifer Lee

6.The addiction to the medical career

The medical career is very difficult. It is such a dynamic profession that doctors must be ever vigilant of the changes in their respective fields.

No matter how much you think you know about your specialty, new research will come out that you must incorporate into your practice.

Not only will you need to have a lifelong dedication to knowledge and learning,  you will likely have to work long hours and find it challenging to not internalize all the traumatic experiences.

However, at the very same time, it’s also so very addictive.

Life lesson as a doctor: There’s really nothing quite like the medical career. It’s a lifestyle, a culture all by itself. 

7. Just another one

Being a physician is a lot of hard work. After seeing patient after patient, day after day, it’s easy to start seeing the patient as ‘just another one.’ 

However, you should make the conscious effort to still view the patient as a person.

I truly believe that treating each patient as if they’re the only one that you’ll ever have, will greatly improve your quality of care and decrease the number of errors.

However, this shouldn’t be an excuse to take unnecessary time and substantially limit the total number of patients. But, it does mean to focus on quality of care – even if it takes a bit longer.

Remember it only takes one patient, one mistake to leave you with numerous regrets and even potentially lose your license.

And, I must mention that it’s also important that patients remember that the physician is human.

As such, it’s important for patients not to jump to conclusion when the doctor takes a break or misunderstands something.

Life lesson as a doctor: Each person is unique and has his or her own struggles. By remembering this simple fact, you will have more compassion and empathy for those in distress. 

8. Take care of yourself

When physicians are passionate about what they do, they will automatically put more time and effort into their work.

However, when that passion turns into an obsession it can blur the lines between one’s professional life and personal life.

A balance must exist in order to protect both of these essential parts of our lives. If you’re struggling to establish that balance, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Notably, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength and intelligence that shows that you are keenly aware of the various ways in which others can assist you in your efforts.

Physicians are expected to remain at their optimal performance level even during times of high stress and fatigue.

It’s important for physicians to manage themselves so they can provide maximum benefit for their patients/clients.

This also means recognizing your own personal and professional limitations. Don’t try to please everyone.

Let excellence characterize you but also realize that you don’t know all the answers. Burnout is real!

According to research, the rates of burnout depends on the medical specialty.

In fact, critical care and neurology recorded the highest rate of burnout (48%), followed by family medicine (47%).

Plastic surgery had the lowest percentage of physicians reporting burnout (23%) (Berg, 2018).

Relating to medical residents, one study showed that 74% met the criteria for burnout and 20% met the depression criteria (Kalmoe et al., 2019).

Related: Burnout from work: Signs, Causes & Prevention

Life lesson as a doctor: Even if you are extremely passionate, make sure that you take care of yourself so that you can sustain your health and passion for the profession.

9.Remaining humble

I’ve seen this a lot in medicine. I think it’s true for many other professions as well.

Once you start excelling at what you’re doing, it becomes easy to let success get to your head and forget why you started and the people who were with you through the journey.

There is nothing wrong with having pride in your work, but never let it cloud your judgement or make you lose sight of the importance of remaining humble. Actually, humility is quite attractive.

Life lessons as a doctor
"...Doctors, have a big responsibility to bring smiles on the faces of suffering humanity." - N.R. Narayana Murthy

Life lesson as a doctor: I think it’s a very good idea to take a moment every once in a while to realize why you’re doing what you do. Your humility will allow you to reach and penetrate the hearts of many more persons. 

Final words on life lessons as a doctor

As a doctor, you’re exposed to many different aspects of society that most people never see.

It’s an incredible privilege to be able to help someone in need or provide comfort during difficult times.

But it’s not always easy work. Sometimes it can be tough – heartbreaking even.

But, there is no greater reward than knowing that you’ve helped someone else when they needed it most.

What are some life lessons that you’ve learnt from your career? Let me know in the comments below.

Related topics

How to cope with a stressful job

The best tips for coping with a stressful job include finding a healthy outlet for your anger.

For instance, talking to friends and family or listening to music can help you release some of that tension.

A healthy diet can also help you cope with stress as it has a direct impact on your moods and energy levels at work.

Taking a break and getting enough sleep by turning off your smartphone, tablet, computer and TV a hour before bedtime are also helpful. 

Additionally, having a regular exercise routine will not only boost your physical wellness, but also have a positive impact on your mental health.

Related: 16 Proven tips for coping with difficult situations

Is becoming a doctor worth it?

Becoming a doctor is worth it, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort and are truly passionate about medicine.

There are many factors that go into this decision. Everyone’s journey is different. It takes a lot of work and determination to become a doctor but the end goal is so rewarding.

Related: Life lessons from my medical school journey

References

Berg, S. (2018) Physician burnout: It’s not you, it’s your medical specialty.Harvey SB, Epstein RM, Glozier N, Petrie K, Strudwick J, Gayed A, Dean K, Henderson M. Mental illness and suicide among physicians. Lancet. 2021 Sep 4;398(10303):920-930. Jenkins KD. Keeping the doctor healthy: ongoing challenges. Med J Aust. 2009 Oct 19;191(8):435. Kalmoe, M. C., Chapman, M. B., Gold, J. A., & Giedinghagen, A. M. (2019). Physician Suicide: A Call to Action. Missouri medicine116(3), 211–216.

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