Throughout Connie Jennings’ 30 years practicing general internal medicine at UK, she has accepted stress as normal, rising and falling in cycles. She knows empathy fatigue from her lowest points of that cycle, sometimes saying to herself, “I have given out.” She trusts she will cycle back out of these low points, saying, “I don’t get stressed about stress.”
A really low point occurred when she accepted a position that required her to end relationships with most of her 2,000 patients. Her UK photo from that period accurately reflects the deep sadness she felt — a sadness that sounds like grief.
Her new position includes a stimulating variety of responsibilities and a pace that is more sustainable. She goes to bed before 10 PM and spends an hour before breakfast walking with her husband and although she loves aerobics and yoga, her real love is swimming. She describes swimming as “nurturing, womb-like, cleansing, rejuvenating — continual baptismal.” She often recalls her grandmother sitting by the pool encouraging her as a child.
She thinks her career has actually made her a better parent, noting that she “had to be on my game” to manage the limited time she had at home. She describes leaving motherly notes if she had to leave home before her children awakened.
She is inspired by physician Rachel Remen, whose writing she recommends to medical colleagues and students. “If you show up open-hearted with love as your teacher, you will learn your lesson. If you practice this way you build a scaffolding that protects you, a calmness and inner peace to draw on as you practice medicine.” Often pausing briefly before entering an exam room, saying a wordless prayer, she contacts the quiet place inside that helps her skillfully meet the suffering of her patients.
Tyler Richmond has practiced interventional cardiology for three years with Lexington Cardiology at Central Baptist. When it comes to managing the combined stress of medical practice and raising children aged 4 years and 2 months, he readily admits he is still looking for the right formula. His greatest challenge is not the severity of his patients’ problems but the sheer volume of responsibilities.
His motivation for being a physician was compassionately caring for patients. He immersed himself fully in work his first two years, but eventually realized the necessity to carve out personal time for self-care if he is to effectively care for others. His self-care includes stopping and watching his breathing or silently counting to 10 to keep him focused on the needs of the unique patient before him. He also meets a former medical school classmate for a gym workout at 6 AM three times a week. He wants to get back into the yoga practice he had in medical school.
His work is among the busiest and most urgent in medicine, especially when he is on-call. Even though his wife is very forgiving of his time away from the family, his young children are often in bed when he gets home at night and he feels guilty about that. He is realizing the necessity of scheduling family time and vacation time throughout the year.
Regarding physician health and well-being, this young heart doctor says “I don’t know what the answer is yet. I have to figure it out.” Like many physicians, he is developing his own unique personal solution to the challenge of being an engaged spouse and parent while sustaining the initial desire to practice compassionate medicine.
About the Author:
Dr Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, specializing in stress-related chronic disease and burnout prevention for helping professionals. He can be reached through his website at www.mindbodystudio.org