Debbie Stanley planned to eventually return home to Eastern Kentucky to practice pediatrics after completing her residency in the 1980s. Being the mother of a small child, she decided to first work part-time in Lexington for a community health clinic affiliated with the health department. She was amazed by the number of uninsured children in Fayette County that needed care. She is now the medical director of that clinic, which is now named HealthFirst Bluegrass.
Administrative issues, rather than patient care, have been her greatest source of job stress. Stanley recalls a negative work environment years ago when she was barely able to get up and go to work due to interpersonal conflicts and lack of administrative support. Seeing patients has actually been an antidote to job stress. She loves serving people in need and making a difference in their lives. She feels privileged as a physician to have such an opportunity, and says, “I love taking care of patients. That’s what keeps me going.”
She is also sustained by family. Her daughter is a pediatrician and now works with her as a professional colleague. She loves gardening and finds digging in the dirt to be healing and therapeutic. She says, “There’s something spiritual about planting and seeing things grow.” She also loves screaming and yelling at UK basketball games.
Despite the emotional and financial stresses of medical education, she knows most medical students and young physicians have good hearts. Stanley believes that the more they are exposed to opportunities to serve patients in need, the more they will stay connected to their initial inspiration to be a physician.
John Roth became a physician to help people. As a busy dermatologist in private practice, he finds his administrative responsibilities far more frustrating and stressful than patient care itself. It took him several years to realize he had to schedule regular out-of-town travel to recharge his batteries.
He knows about how long he can go before practice frustrations impact his well being and the quality of his patient care. Looking forward to travel gives him a goal to shoot for, knowing he can hang on until then. Wherever he has gone internationally, he has consistently recognized how fortunate he and his patients are to live in this country. He returns with an appreciation of our healthcare system, despite its deficiencies and frustrations.
When he returns from traveling, he feels renewed and his longtime patients sense the beneficial impact his trips have on him- and on them. Patients comment to his office staff when they sense he is needing time off. They also notice his increased sense of well being upon his return. He and his patients both feel it when his outlook is better. Little things don’t bother him as much. No patient has ever expressed resentment at his taking time off.
Given the degree of stress and burnout in medicine today, he has these suggestions for self care for medical students and physician colleagues? “Take time off on a regular basis, maintain rapport with your professional colleagues and never be ashamed to share your stresses with them. They can understand things your family often cannot.”
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