Residents & Fellows Corner | Nov/Dec '17

Road Map to Balance

A guide through the twists and turns of residency.

When we think of balanced lifestyles, the daily grind of a resident’s life is probably the last to come to mind. Over the course of our careers, thousands of hours have been dedicated toward obtaining the knowledge and skills to provide the highest level of eye care. This tremendous devotion should never come at the expense of our own well-being. As physicians, we should be the prime examples of and biggest advocates for healthy living, starting with ourselves.

We all spend the countless hours in the library, the clinic, and the emergency room, which we need to be well equipped to treat our patients. Such privileges indeed, but the moment we are freed from our duties should not mean our work stops. We need to have the same fervor and dedication toward ourselves as well.

There are many avenues to obtain a balanced lifestyle, and I urge everyone to take a moment to evaluate the best way of achieving it. Personally, I dedicate a portion of every day to providing myself the space and activities to get there. Below are a few simple ways to create the most out of your busy everyday schedules.

Exercise

For some, fitness is a large priority; for others, it is an afterthought. How can we even fathom exercising after being up at 5:30 am and doing 12 complicated cases in the OR? Our dedication to our health requires daily affirmations. The same way we shower and brush our teeth every day, we must set aside some time for exercise. I asked my mentor, who often works 6 days a week, performing over 100 cataract surgeries, how he manages to find time to exercise. He simply responded, “Mental salvation.” That really hit home.

Our minds are everywhere these days—constantly thinking about our patients, our surgical cases, our next call day, the OKAPs, etc. In such organized chaos, dedicating 20 to 30 minutes every day to yourself is a must. Achieve that mental salvation walking on a treadmill, stretching, or doing yoga. Turn your phone on silent and allow the external environment to quiet down while you dedicate yourself to an activity that is beneficial for your body. We are mostly at the age where we feel relatively invincible. But the more we do for ourselves now, the more our future 50-to-60-year-old selves will thank us. I recommend carving out at least 20 minutes per day to go and do something active, get your heart rate up, and taste the mental salvation that comes from it.

FOOD

We counsel our patients on their diets. But, as I recall, switching up which fast food restaurants I ate at so that I didn’t get sick of them during my USMLE Step 1 study sessions was so counterintuitive. Some of us don’t know how to cook or don’t have the time. This is also an excuse. If we can perform eye surgery, we can easily prepare ourselves with at least one meal a day that will replenish the nutrients our brains and bodies need. Plus, there are now programs like Blue Apron to help. A simple “Meal Prep Sunday” can be very helpful in making and packing yourself the recommended daily dose of fruits and vegetables. I will tell you this, cooking itself offers its own level of mental salvation. So, put down the greasy hospital food and that unhealthy junk food and give your body the natural goodness we have access to in this beautiful country.

Mindfulness

Some people believe in a higher power, and some believe in the power of self. Whatever you believe in, take a few minutes in your day to take a deep breath and recognize where you are in your journey. We work constantly, and it becomes routine. But remind yourself where you were 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and then where you are today. So many of us forget that we need to enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

When I speak to my mentors, they always share fond memories of their training days, just trying to figure out how to use an indirect ophthalmoscope. Recognize how far you have come and how much you have achieved. There are only about 10,000 of us in the whole country, out of 330 million people. We are accomplishing something great! Take a moment to be proud of yourself and to recognize your value. It will translate to having a healthier overall attitude.

When you see that another patient has been added to your schedule, rather than cursing internally, think of this as another opportunity to hold someone’s hand and make a difference in his or her life. Our patients look up to us, and we have the capacity to make them feel hopeful or cared for. That is a gift we must constantly recognize within ourselves. The more we tap into it, the more rewarding our work becomes.

Travel

Some of us like to travel, and some of us don’t. Whether you’re flying across the Atlantic or going across town, take the time to remove yourself from your current confines. For me, when I leave my home and go to another city or town, my senses come alive through new sights, sounds, tastes, smells, etc. This allows our minds to be stimulated in its other dimensions.

SLEEP

Don’t deprive yourself of sleep. As surgeons especially, we need to be sharp at all times, and a healthy amount of sleep is necessary for all of us. Find a way give yourself enough sleep every night to be as sharp and alert as you need to be. If you have trouble falling asleep, look back up at step 1: A good exercise session can help you pass out once your head hits the pillow.

LIFE

This article is meant to be a reminder to constantly imagine and achieve the life that you want, with the necessary baby steps to take to get there. If there is something you love to do and you know you aren’t doing it anymore, be cognizant of that and strive to reintroduce it into your life. Whether it is reading a book or playing the guitar, make sure you include the things you love into your routine. You will never look back on your life and regret doing the things you enjoy most.

CONCLUSION

Treat your mind and body right, and they will treat you right. Make the investment today for your future self. I make it a point to do at least one thing productive for my mind and body every day, and I hope you all do, too!

author
M. Amir Moarefi, MD
  • Cleveland Eye Clinic, Anterior Segment and Refractive Surgery Fellowship, Cleveland, Ohio
  • amir.moarefimd@gmail.com
  • Financial disclosure: None
author
Jessica Ciralsky, MD | Section Editor

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