The Disenfranchised Physician—Finding a Day for You

By Bob Sweeney

doctor iconIn the last two months, I’ve had direct personal engagement with several of my physicians—a gastroenterologist, an internist and a dermatologist. Each plays an important role in keeping my body in good order. I also know each well enough to banter about our lives, work and hobbies. One obvious thing I picked up on from our conversations was how hard each of them finds it to take time for themselves. When not practicing, it seems each of these docs is consumed with paperwork, staff interactions, and a myriad of other major and minor intrusions into their lives. I got the feeling that, for these dedicated practitioners, saying “No” was a real difficulty.

A recent report from MDLinx focuses on the need for clinicians to do a better job of caring for themselves, both mentally and physically:

The article lists five reasons why taking a day for yourself on a regular basis is beneficial. There are also suggestions for how to use your day off to good effect. One thing that jumped out at me as I read this report was something I’ve personally learned from years of practicing martial arts. I’ll share it because the bottom line here may be insightful for any effort at change or goal achievement.

Grossly speaking, we can think of acquiring a habit or pursuing a goal as falling into one of two types of process categories: direct and logarithmic. The direct activity reveals progress on a continuous basis. If I play basketball and work on my shooting, I can see the results the next time I play. If I play the slots at
a casino, I can see right away how I am doing. However, logarithmic processes only show results incrementally over a long period of time. From day to day, it is very hard to tell if one is getting better or stagnating. Only after months, sometimes years, of effort is the improvement manifested. It’s certainly true of trying to become proficient in martial arts, but I am pretty confident it applies to changes in lifestyle as well. To build a habit of taking time for one’s self will require reinforcement just to keep up the habit. The benefits are likely to be incremental and only begin to show themselves down the road in three or six months.

The most effective way I’ve dealt with this conundrum in my life is to schedule the time for a habit rigorously. That is, I put it in my schedule book and don’t take it off without a critical reason. If I do have to cancel, I immediately schedule a replacement day for the same time period. In the face of all the other disruptive activities in the world of medicine these days, it is understandable why physicians overlook or lose sight of the need to take care of themselves. But, really, when you think about it, isn’t taking care of YOU the vital first step to counter disenfranchisement in the life you have chosen?


Robert E. “Bob” Sweeney, DA, MS

Principal & Managing Director