Happy healing time: Navigating holiday rest for physicians

7 minute read
Kenza Bouzoubaa

Kenza Bouzoubaa

Brand & Communication Manager

Dr. Myrdalis Díaz-Ramírez

Dr. Myrdalis Díaz-Ramírez

Board-Certified Interventional Pain Physician

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and also the time to get some well-deserved rest.

The Nabla team chatted with Dr. Myrdalis Díaz-Ramírez, Board-Certified Interventional Pain Physician, physician-coach, podcaster, and founder of the Physician Entrepreneur maxAllure Mastermind, on the ways clinicians can take advantage of the holiday to recharge and set some healthy habits for the coming year. In this exclusive interview, she discusses physician burnout symptoms, shares advice on how to reignite joy in medicine, and the way organizations can support clinician wellbeing.

First of all, Dr. Díaz-Ramírez, what is something you like to do during the holiday season that helps you recharge as a physician?

Taking the time to connect with my family. Dancing and laughing together, simply enjoying each other's presence.

Can you share some common signs and symptoms of physician burnout that doctors may experience, and which may become apparent during the holiday season?

You know, I myself experienced burnout some years ago, and what I noticed was I had stopped smiling for a very long time at work.

What I see today in healthcare professionals who are going through burnout is they simply are so overwhelmed and drained, that they are not able to connect emotionally with their patients, colleagues, and families alike. Unfortunately, some clinicians may develop poor bedside manners, for example, or stop having the kind of sense of humor that sometimes proves useful to calm and reassure patients in difficult circumstances.

Another thing I see is reduced patience for routine tasks such as authorization requests, as well as becoming short-tempered in the face of the smallest challenges, both professional and personal. In the mind of someone experiencing burnout, these challenges pile up and are magnified, feeling as a bigger obstacle than what they actually are.

Burnout becomes apparent in the holidays when, in addition to the examples above, you are not able to take your mind off of work to focus on resting.

Of course, not all of us get to fully enjoy the Christmas holiday. Some doctors still need to work in this season. What's your top 3 advice to doctors looking to create a healthy work-life balance throughout the year?

One of the things that I have to mention is that I'm always thankful for those who work during the holidays. To those physicians reading this and working this holiday, your communities are grateful to you.

First of all, I'd say practice gratitude, for anything you have good happening in your life. Make it a habit.

Second, become better at self-care. As physicians, we're very good at giving this advice to our patients, but not so good at applying it ourselves. We must realize that we'll be able to deliver better care if we're rested and having our self-care needs met. I once read on Medscape about a survey that showed that while 80% of physicians agreed that practicing self-care was "very important," only about a third "sometimes" engaged in self-care.

Third, make an intentional effort to stay connected to the people and activities that bring you joy. Whatever you are doing, be present, and look for ways you can maximize your happiness, by also bringing joy to others, whether that'd be with a kind gesture, a compliment, or offering to help.

In your coaching practice, have you found any particular mindset shifts that are especially beneficial for physicians aiming to overcome exhaustion? Can you give us some examples?

Two of my favorites are the following:

  • First, acknowledge what you can and cannot change and that you have control over your happiness. The Sustainable Happiness Model, developed by Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade in 2005, states that 50% of our happiness is genetically predetermined, 10% is related to our environment, and 40% is determined by the actions we choose. All the issues we might have with administration, prior authorizations, and every single hurdle between us and the care we want to give our patients, for example, constitute no more than 10% of what makes us happy or not. We can control 40% by being intentional about how we handle those challenges and how we respond emotionally to them.

  • Another mindset shift can occur when we decide to practice self-compassion and talk to ourselves in the same way we would to a patient, a family member, or a friend. When we address ourselves in this manner, we tend to make choices that will allow us to put ourselves first. Once we're again mentally and physically available, then we can take on our recovery from burnout.

How can healthcare organizations support their physicians to prevent burnout and promote physician well being?

I recently came across a study that said that less than 10% of clinicians described their workplace as joyful. This study highlighted that one of the key stressors for these professionals was the lack of patient safety measures promoted by their organizations. As physicians, one of the things that scare us the most is losing our license to practice. Being afraid of making mistakes because the work environment doesn't support patient safety only exacerbates burnout.

Another thing is that even before the pandemic, we started seeing the end of physician lounges, which are actually great spaces for connection. This is having disastrous consequences, incrementing the feelings of loneliness and exhaustion that precipitate burnout. If you're still lucky to have a physician lounge, do go there and connect with colleagues. Positivity and gratitude are contagious.

Patient safety measures including staffing policies, implementing the tools and programs that allow physicians to focus on caring for their patients, promoting connection in the workplace, and offering anonymous mechanisms to support physician mental health are all lines of action healthcare organizations should work on.

In your experience, what are some of the top signs that indicate a physician is overcoming their feeling of burnout?

You'll see this person re-building their relationships with other people, their colleagues, patients, and family. You'll see them do well at work, focusing on the quality of care they want to give to the patient and delivering empathetic care.

I also see physicians overcoming burnout being eager to take on new challenges, and wanting to try new things. They've also learnt to ask for what they need and have decided to take back control over their wellbeing. They rebuild trust in their capabilities, although rebuilding trust in the system around them will take some time. They will slowly become hopeful and willing to contribute again.

What advice do you have for physicians looking to learn and try new things that can reignite their passion for medicine?

I guess sometimes you have to look for things outside of medicine to come back to it with greater joy and practice it with bigger pleasure. In my case, it has been entrepreneurship and cultivating my creative side. That's why I launched the maxAllure Mastermind, to gather a community of physicians who are looking to explore their entrepreneurial potential as a way to take back control of their lives.

As physicians, we have a passion for helping others, but we also need to make time for those things that allow us to recharge outside of work. Make it a priority to have those moments. Only by taking care of ourselves can we take better care of others. Find some happy healing time!

We hope this interview inspired you to develop healthy habits that you can incorporate into your daily life to foster a sense of joy and connection, during, and beyond the holiday!