As clinicians we have a great deal of responsibility upon us to treat patients, instruct students, and balance these responsibilities with our personal lives. Self-reflection helps us to achieve that balance. However, the notion of self-reflection can be hard for many of us to grasp.
We live in a society that is “plugged in” to technology and social media, and the time demands that we have throughout the day can be quite stressful, whether it is a full schedule of patients, meetings, classes, rounds, or similar duties.
Making time to reflect and not be consumed by the demands of life can seem impossible. But we have to remember, as any airline’s flight attendants instruct us, that before taking care of others, we need to put on our own oxygen mask first, or we’ll be of no help. When we take time for ourselves we ultimately become better clinicians.
Poet and biographer Carl Sandburg once stated, “It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask of himself, ‘Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?’” (www.nps.gov/getaways/carl/ accessed June 15, 2014).
One has to carve out that self-reflection time, even if it starts with just 5 minutes a day of sitting in pure silence or doing yoga. The act of being still and self-reflecting is a healthy practice that can make a person more productive.
The first time you try sitting in pure silence for 5 minutes it will probably feel like 30 minutes, because we program our bodies always to be on the go. But when we block out all the other external stimuli and truly self-reflect, we benefit by experiencing a sense of renewal and greater productivity.
Since our profession is a demanding and frequently stressful one, it is important to take time to self-reflect in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance. When we do not take time to take care of ourselves we are ultimately doing a disservice to our patients, because we won’t be at the top of our game. When we see patients or try to instruct students while stressed, neither group is getting our full attention.
Take time to reflect on your current situation and to think about activities that would make you feel more improved. If you think you would benefit from getting more exercise, then set aside a specific time during the day to make that happen.
Do the same if you would feel more improved by losing weight, stopping smoking, spending more quality time with family, making time for reading medical journals, enjoying a hobby, meditating, or simply taking a short walk every day to catch your breath. When we start taking care of ourselves, our patients and students will reap the benefits of our greater sense of well-being.
We need to find those activities that will truly clear our minds and allow us to self-reflect. Yoga and meditation are key pursuits that can help us reach that stillness.
One has to remember that one does not have to spend hours engaging in such an activity; doing it for just a few minutes each day can make a difference.
People who challenge themselves to spend a few minutes each day on yoga or meditation may well wonder after just a couple of weeks how they functioned without that time they carved out for themselves.
It is our responsibility as clinicians to take care of patients, but we cannot do that without taking care of ourselves. We need to achieve a good work/life balance and take time to self-reflect to find how we can better ourselves, improvements that in turn will overflow to our patients.
No patient wants to see a sulky and stressed-out clinician, and no student wants to learn from an instructor with these characteristics.
Chad R. Stough, MPAS, PA-C, works as a physician assistant at West Atlanta Pediatrics in Dallas, Ga.