“Physician, heal thyself!” is generally an expression referencing when we, as physicians treat ourselves for our own medical issues. As a pathologist, I certainly do very little prescribing of medications, or test ordering, so I am not at risk for that behavior as much as those who see patients daily.
However, after practicing during the stress of the pandemic, then during the post-pandemic times, and then struggling with and finishing therapy for stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma, I am now striving to adopt a different strategy for “healing myself.” During my tenure as the Oklahoma County Medical Society president in 2023, I plan to share with others strategies for helping to address physician stress, burnout, and mental health. This article is a starting point to share recent things I have used to help myself.
I certainly am no expert in this field, and many things that I could do to improve my own mental health, I am not adopting very firmly. However, I am a lifelong learner. And as such, I am committed to helping myself be well.
My first thing I do to help with my own self care is this: I take vacation. It sounds so basic. So easy. Take vacation—but as physicians, we receive daily external pressures—staff, coworkers, patients, the electronic medical record—all of these, without implicitly stating it, tell us—we need you! You must work! You must take care of these patients! Nobody can do this job the way that you do!
It has taken me years of life coaching, yoga and self-reflection, but I can honestly say that while it is certainly tempting to tell myself that only I can do certain tasks, it’s actually not true. If I do not come to work for a day, for a week, for 2 weeks, even a month, the patients still get care. Processes exist to make sure this happens. I have amazing partners in my group, and the two hospitals where I primarily work, have amazing staff who keep this happening.
And so for Thanksgiving week, I took a Disney cruise with my 9 year old. Now before your eyes glaze over—Disney, ugh! I see you! Don’t knock it. Getting to see Mickey, some princesses, Captain Jack Sparrow, it was good for my soul. Time with my son, time to myself, and most importantly, time where my cell phone is in airplane mode–it is a game changer. I came back feeling blessed for the time off, and also ready to take care of my patients again.
Please physicians, take care of yourself first. We cannot take care of our patients, nor our families if we do not take care of ourselves first.
Michelle Powers, MD, MBA
President, Oklahoma County Medical Society