Self-Care for Doctors

As doctors, we have been trained to take care of others, often at the great expense of ourselves and our families.

But sooner or later, this takes a toll on us, and there may come a time when we realise we want or need to start taking greater care of ourselves. This moment may be an illness, an accident, a relationship breakdown, problems with patients or staff, or burnout, exhaustion and depression.When we decide we would like to take more care of ourselves, where do we start?

One of the great ironies about being a doctor is that we know so much about the human body, but don’t seem to have a great idea of how to care for our own in a tender loving way. We have been trained to ignore it, override it, push it beyond human limits, go without food, water, sleep and a social life for extraordinary periods of time, but we seem a little stumped when it comes to simple self-care!

We are also far from experts at looking after our own emotional health and have in fact been trained to override, dismiss and bury our emotions, which can lead to a host of other problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, and ill mental health.

We have ourselves learned, through our experience, that we cannot truly care for others until we have learned to care for ourselves. In developing a deeper understanding of our own bodies and health, which is not something we were trained to know in medical school, we can develop a deeper understanding of what true health is, for ourselves and for our patients.

Perhaps in our world of evidence based medicine we need to see our own bodies as a scientific experiment. Our bodies are very willing teachers, but only if we are willing to listen. They will tell us exactly what is nurturing for us and what is not. They will show us how certain foods, lack of sleep, too much stress, studying without a break affects us, and how the things we use to ‘relax’ affect us. Perhaps that bar of chocolate, those extra coffees and staying up partying were after all not such a bright idea!

Through listening to our bodies, we can find ways to care for ourselves which suit us as individuals and allow us to have a balance between our work life and our home life, ways to care for ourselves deeply, enabling us to work with patients without getting burned out, ways of giving ourselves the self-care and self-love which sustain us, and which we can then share with our patients, our families, and each other.

By Dr Jane Barker and Dr Anne Malatt – Photography by Alan Johnston

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