Doctors are not immune to stress
Dr. Shafiq A M, Director and CEO, Specialist Hospital
National Doctors Day is celebrated on 1st July in India; a day when we remember doctors and are thankful for everything they do for us, as individuals and as a society. However, how often do we realise that they too are human and of late, there have been several incidents of emotional burnout and acute physical exhaustion due to long working hours and an ever-increasing patient load. Emotional burnout is often caused by a number of different reasons including exposure to the emotions of patients and their families, the need to provide the right treatment, feeling of disappointment when treatment modalities do not progress as desired and the feeling of being powerless against certain stubborn diseases. Burnout subsequently increases fatigue, causes sleep imbalance, discord within the family and in extreme cases could lead to suicide. Additionally, the environment in which they work is highly stressful, as in the event of a wrong decision or treatment, the onus falls squarely on the doctor, be it from the patient’s relatives or friends or the general public. The field of medicine is rapidly progressing, with new treatments being discovered and tested everyday. This means that doctors need to keep with the pace of development in order to remain relevant.
Recent reports suggest that a majority of physicians suffer from moderate to severe emotional exhaustion. It is therefore important to create a positive atmosphere in the working environment. It is important for doctors to maintain a healthy work-life balance and engage in physical activities such as cycling, swimming, trekking etc. and also take to some form of meditation, even if it is for a few minutes every day. If meditation is not one’s cup of tea, then one can turn to problem solving as an alternative. Sometimes doctors do not know that they are undergoing stress and so some hospitals have a psychiatrist on call to help them identify their problems. It is advisable for doctors to attend regular stress management training programs, to reduce workplace stress and have a positive impact on their colleagues. Doctors need to understand that once they have a burnout, it is irreversible. Therefore, prevention is the only option.
A vacation on a regular basis is a must for doctors if they need to destress. Another thing that doctors need to develop is the ability to delink when the break off for the day and reconnect only in case of an emergency. Another important aspect that is often overlooked is that of eating healthy and getting adequate sleep. Regular exercise also plays an important role in health of both mind and body. Doctors should also address their spiritual needs as most often, engaging in religious activities rejuvenates the mind and stimulates confidence to perform better. Doctors need to remember that keeping their feelings bottled up would only do more harm than good. It is important to have someone to talk to, someone with whom they can freely share their feelings with. Learning a new skill often helps in building confidence and abilities. Music is also a great stress reliever, even if it is listening to music only on the commute to work or back home. Music refreshes the mind and has the ability to remove the effects of stress. In case a doctor is doing multiple shifts, it is very important to rest between shifts. Doctors under duress can deliver poor quality of healthcare to patients and make medical errors.
Patients on the other hand, need to understand that a doctor, by the sheer nature of his work, encounters emotions and stress on a patient-to-patient basis. Unnecessary comments and actions that could add to the doctor’s stress must be avoided. Patients should remember that their doctors too are human and vulnerable to stress. One of the most valuable things that patients can do for doctors is to trust them. Patients need to keep in mind that it is the doctor who is in control of the situation as he is the most qualified to do so. Patient-Doctor empathy and vice versa is an absolute necessity to enhance a calm and fruitful experience.