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Journal writing is the creative nourishment these physicians need to sustain themselves through endless busy days.

Fam Pract Manag. 2001;8(10):60

When we prepare for a physical journey we plan ahead. We think about what we need to bring with us, the best way to get to our destination and what the experience we’re about to embark on will be like. Rarely do we put so much thought into other types of journeys in our lives. For example, consider your professional journey as a physician. Have you thought about where you’re headed, how you’ll get there and how you’ll sustain yourself along the way?

As you travel on your professional journey, we recommend you keep a “survival journal” in which you can practice some creative self-care and contemplate the paths that lie ahead. Physically, your journal can be a spiral notebook, a sketch pad or a file on your computer. Emotionally, this creative outlet will give you shelter, food, water and fire as you navigate your professional life.

Shelter: Connecting to people

When was the last time you sent a birthday card or wrote a letter or thankyou note to a friend (e-mails excluded)? Use your survival journal to write a letter to yourself. Reflect on the past; respect the present; imagine the future. Consider your current relationships: What could be better? What bridges need mending? If you had only one year left to live, with whom would you want to spend it? A good resource for learning more about shelter building is Henriette Anne Klauser’s Put Your Heart on Paper: Staying Connected in a Loose-Ends World.

Food: Processing daily input

Drug companies, newspapers, magazines and television news programs all seem to have the inside scoop on new medical studies before they even reach our desks. How do you manage the information explosion? If you’re increasingly frustrated, take a hint from your past as a student: When you encounter something new you want to learn more about, jot yourself a note. Use anything you can get your hands on – a file card, a prescription pad, etc. – and then put that note in your pocket, or wherever you’ll find it later. When you get a chance, take a few minutes to process that new idea in your journal. Do you need to read an article about it? Call a colleague about it? Discuss it with your partner? For guidance, pick up a copy of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb.

Water: Keeping the juices flowing

Your survival journal can help you assess the level of your creative juices. Are you an Amazon rain forest, rich with ideas to support the growth of a healthy community? Or are you a Sahara, dried up by the pressure to see more patients, correctly code that last visit and attend one more hospital meeting? Journaling can stimulate creativity and replenish the well. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity and Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life are invaluable in this process.

Fire: Using anger constructively

Strong emotions carry a lot of energy. We can let those emotions control us, or we can harness that energy to our advantage. When faced with strong emotions, consider blowing on the coals instead of smothering them, and record your thoughts in your journal. Experiment with the techniques in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words.

If you think poetry is for sissies, try reading the work of Anna Akhmatova. This great Russian poet could not commit her poems to paper for much of her career for fear of imprisonment and torture.

The whirling currents of our professional lives require that we construct our own life rafts before we can truly serve others. In the pages of your survival journal, you will find the patience and creativity to design that raft. We can recommend books to guide you, but it’s up to you to pick up your pen, turn on your computer, dust off the easel or rosin up the bow and get started. We hope you will.

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Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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