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Thursday Sep 01, 2016

Physicians, Wellness Should Begin With Us

Have you ever felt that because you are a doctor, you are invincible? Oftentimes, we lay claim to that invulnerability without even noticing.

We are so busy listening to other people's heartbeats, bowel sounds or problems that we often neglect our own. It's a challenge for altruistic people -- the people who go into health care to heal others but neglect themselves. We prescribe lots of advice for others but don't take it ourselves.

I walk to and from work every day. If we neglect our own health, our ability to care for patients will ultimately suffer.

I realize that hypocrisy is nonintentional. We are so busy looking at others that we forget to -- or don't make the time to -- examine ourselves. We don't take the extra time in the mirror to reflect for fear of failing to close charts, get to a meeting, lead a new quality improvement initiative or handle our endless responsibilities at home and at work. Maybe we are avoiding the truth that we are not perfect. Reality check: No human -- including you, Doctor -- is perfect, and none ever will be.

We often deceive ourselves. Sometimes it's because we are afraid of creating the space to address our needs, thinking it will take us more time and effort than we desire to give. But think about it: Why would we use that energy for someone else but not ourselves? How much time or energy would it really take to do a daily check-in? To stop and take our own pulse, listen to the sound of our own breathing, and get in that one hour of exercise that we advise for all of our patients? As healers, aren't we also deserving of healing? Of being comforted? Of being seen as human beings who also hurt, bleed and have insecurities?

During the most challenging period of my life, I have continued to work and give myself to my patients. However, I notice that the energy I have so willingly given in the past is not at a surplus. I initially felt bad about this. I wasn't as cheerful as usual. I wasn't able to give patience and advice at my normal level.

When life strikes us with illness, betrayal or the death of a loved one, it is difficult to continue to give it all. What I noticed about myself is that despite it all, I was still able to maintain my professionalism. I got my job done, and I did it well -- but not at the level that I am used to.

However, I decided to give myself something called grace. The faster I did this and stopped beating myself up, the quicker I was able to forgive myself for not doing what I rationally was incapable of doing in the moment. And when I started giving myself grace, I started to observe that others also gave it to me -- my boss, my colleagues, my staff and even my patients.

My patients showered me with kindness and a willingness to spontaneously share themselves in a way that I had never heard before. (Was that because maybe I had never slowed down enough to really listen?) They told me the stories of their lives, revealed their motivations and sources of inspiration, and offered healthy coping mechanisms of laughter and community. I don't know how they knew what I was going through, but they provided the best form of healing: human connection.  

I am grateful, and I hope to never take the power of connection for granted again. Each time a patient walks into the exam room to discuss the most common of colds, the most difficult-to-manage hypertension, or the complexities of life, it is an opportunity for us to connect on the most basic level of love and concern for the well-being of another.    

We are, after all, only humans, clothed in white coats and aiming to add more wellness to the world. Let our wellness begin with us.

Venis Wilder, M.D., is a board-certified family physician who practices at a federally qualified health center in Harlem, N.Y. She also considers herself a community health practitioner working at the intersection of primary care and public health.

Posted at 04:23PM Sep 01, 2016 by Venis Wilder, M.D.

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