Ten Ways to Regain the Joy in Medicine

(If you are currently in the midst of a financial crisis, you will want to get a copy of my next book, The Doctors Guide to Navigating a Financial Crisis, coming June 16th. Pre-order the book here.)

Many physicians have lost their joy in practicing medicine. Many factors work together to create joy in your workplace. The Medscape 2020 Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report lists a few of these factors and sums up where we stand as a group. Following are some their results we should consider to raise the joy level in your medical life. I’m especially partial to #6. There’s no reason your job shouldn’t be joyful. 

1: Work on your home life

When asked which specialist are happy outside of work, the results show 44% – 60% of physicians are happy with their home life. That means more than 40% of us are not happy outside of work and there are major factors outside of medicine that contribute to your unhappiness. Possibly dissatisfaction at work is affecting your home or dissatisfaction at home is affecting you at work. Either way, don’t neglect home factors as you reflect on the amount of joy you have at work.

2: Improve your personal health

Seventeen percent of men and 22% of women rarely or never spend time on their own personal health and wellness. I was certainly guilty of this. When work hours go up, time for me goes down as I am the first thing sacrificed in the schedule. Put your needs back into your schedule.

3: Take more vacation

Of the physicians surveyed, 33% take two weeks or less of vacation each year. In a job as stressful as we have, two weeks of vacation is not enough time to recharge your batteries. Some of us even talk like we should get a merit badge for not taking all of our vacation time. It’s in the contract for a reason. Take all of your vacation and negotiate for more in your next contract. You need time away to recharge your battery so you can keep up your stressful work schedule.

4: Cultivate your marriage

Approximately 14% of the married physicians surveyed rated their marriage as fair, poor, or very poor. Marital discord is a major stress factor in life. Start dating your spouse again; do the things you enjoyed doing together when you were dating. There is a reason you fell in love and got married in the first place. Rekindle your relationship by having a weekly date night. Date night is a great joy booster for both of you, so don’t let a busy schedule push your marriage off the calendar.

5: Work fewer hours

In general, physicians work long hours. The Medscape survey found that about 20% of us work more than 60 hours a week. That is 1 ½ times the normal 40-hour work week. Why do we put in so many long hours? Mostly, I suspect, it is to earn a higher income. When we spend so much time at work we are trading our family time for higher earned income. If this is you, find ways to decrease your spending to allow you to work fewer hours. Your ability to live on a smaller income will allow you to do things you enjoy doing and spend more time with your family. 

6: Pay off debt

Debt is a big factor in driving us to work longer hours. I know this was an issue for me. When I got rid of my debt, I felt free to stop doing some surgeries and procedures in my practice that I didn’t like and only did because they paid well. I did not listen to those advising me to keep my low interest debt to make more money investing in the stock market. The debt was a burden. Removing the debt gave me a lot more freedom than having more money in my brokerage account could ever do.  If you need to hear all the reasons why becoming debt free will improve your life, read my book The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt.

7: Exercise

We teach our patients the importance of exercise but we don’t do it ourselves. 23% of us exercise once or less per week. That will not cut it. Exercise gives us more energy and releases endorphins to help us feel better. So you should only exercise on the days you want to feel better. If you exercise sporadically, you will be sore afterwards discouraging you from continuing. Exercise regularly and you will feel energized. 

8: Eat Better

This is another thing we ask our patients but don’t do ourselves. 50% of all the doctors in the survey were currently trying to lose weight. Eating well is the biggest component of this quest. Do you choose wisely or do you pick for convenience. I know when I pulled long days at the hospital, I did not make good choices in the cafeteria. Pack a good lunch to have available when you are hungry, so the convenient food loses its appeal. Keep healthy snacks handy in your desk, pocket, and car. 

9: Schedule breaks in the day

All work and no play makes for a very tired and grumpy doctor. I know you have a lot to do, just like I did. Don’t work all day long without taking some breaks. Stop for lunch. Schedule a ghost patient in the morning and afternoon to give yourself a chance to sit in your office and take a 10-minute breather. I kept a CD player in my office with a very soothing album loaded. I would stop and go into the office, close the door and lay back with my feet up for two songs and just relax. I felt so much better after this seven minute break. Running yourself into the ground is no good for anyone, especially you. 

10: Choose to be Tigger not Eeyore

We cannot control what happens around us, but we can control how we react to it. We can choose which character from Winnie the Pooh we will respond as. We can act like Eeyore and be down about everything or we can choose to be Tigger and enjoy life no matter what it throws at us. Choose to be Tigger and your attitude will be so much better. Better attitude will create a better you and your level of joy will increase. Joy is a choice we all can make. 

There you have it, ten things you can do that will increase the level of joy you feel from your career in medicine. Pick one factor at a time to work on and when you master that one, pick another. Don’t try to change everything all at once. What would you add to the list?

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