March is synonymous with college basketball, winning brackets (or losing in my case), and general merriment. For those of us in medicine, it may have a different meaning – stresses of matching, winter blues, and a general feeling of being burnt out. For me, March was one of the hardest months to get through in training, despite it being my birthday month.
Living in Massachusetts means long winters and I notice the general spirit of trainees tends to drop during this time. The novelty of winter has grown old, as the holidays have passed and we all seem to anxiously await the spring. The grueling winter days make it challenging to be outdoors, inhibiting us from enjoying our hobbies, and in short, tired of being cold. My friends who have trained or are working in cold climates (i.e Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Vermont to mention a few) have echoed the same sentiment. My personal interactions with interns and residents are often highlighted by fatigue, decreased empathy towards patients, and a desperate need for “the year to be over.” So, what are the tools we can use to help get through our own March Madness?
Here are a few tips and tricks that have helped me improve my wellbeing.
- Stress to Strength: Growing up, I played soccer, basketball, tennis, tried picking up running (but limited by jumpers’ knee), and occasionally surfing. Clearly, none of these are great activities if it’s cold outside which caused me to feel claustrophobic in the winters. I instead work out in the hospital gym much more to try to stay active and have a positive outlet for when I am stressed. I often get asked, “what’s a good strategy for me to make it to the gym with our crazy schedule?” I’ve realized not everyone wants to go to the gym before work (which is my routine) but having small, achievable goals is the way to go. For example, try going one day before work, one day after work, and once during the weekend. You don’t need to go every single day to be healthy or stress-free. Having a few days per week in dedicated time slots will help create structure and not make going to work out feel like a chore.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness is becoming more popular in the west and for valid reasons. It is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. We can exacerbate stress if we ruminate about the past, worry about the future, or even engage in self-criticism; and I have been guilty of all 3. I discovered a great app called “Headspace” that helped me with guided mediation and mindfulness. The app has evolved to help fit nearly everyone’s needs and I have recommended it to several friends/colleagues.
- Making my list, checking it twice: Trainees have so many tasks they need to complete: pre-rounding, rounding, Epic tasks, notes, discharge summaries, more Epic tasks, case reports, quality improvement projects, and if they have time – grocery shopping. I always keep a list of tasks I need to complete – partly because it helps me stay organized, but also my obsessive-compulsive personality LOVES to cross tasks off the list. If you get overwhelmed with the countless tasks you have to do, start keeping a list. This will help create structure, organization, and improve productivity.
- Reach Out: We all need to have friends, family, and colleagues to turn to when we are feeling burnt out. Fortunately, many training programs have resources available from their GME office, which are often underutilized. My clinic preceptor (and friend) Dr. Brigid Carlson has invited me out for coffee, dinner with her family, and always welcomes me to speak to her if I am feeling overwhelmed. Knowing I have someone to turn to has helped me not “bottle things up.”
Although March Madness is traditionally stressful with college basketball, it should not be the same for the workplace. With spring on the horizon, many of us feel the stresses of training but there are resources to help us to continue to be successful.
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Barinder Hansra, known as “Ricky” to his friends and family, is a physician-scientist-teacher living his best life at University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, MA. His focus is on cardiac critical care and cardio-obstetrics, and is headed to Stanford University for another fellowship. Follow on Twitter: @rickyhansra