07 Aug MY WELLBEING STORY: YEAR 3, 4 + BEYOND
This Blue Week, we asked people at different stages in their medical career, to share their personal Wellbeing Stories unique to the current context of their medical careers. Through various stages of medicine, we all face our own unique challenges and although it may sometimes feel like we are all alone or the only one struggling, this is often the furthest thing from the truth. Each of us has a Wellbeing Story that describes the challenges we face and how we approach them. Sharing these stories creates a community that is positive, understanding and supportive as we work together to create a healthier environment for health professionals. As you navigate your own challenges, we hope these stories encourage you and empower you to talk and share with others.
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- Eve De Silva (Griffith University School of Medicine)
YEAR 3 + 4
Clinical years are an exciting time of growing in skills and confidence. Here are some stories from our third and fourth year students.
This year I have struggled from my own negative self-talk. In particular, making comparisons to other medical staff on the wards (other students, interns, residents). I internally beat myself up if I can’t interpret an x-ray, cannulate or do a neuro exam as fast as the person next to me. This has led, at times, to a destructive imposter syndrome. I’ve been a victim of my own negative self-talk for as long as I can remember in different aspects of my life (socially, academically, sporting). However, I did not anticipate this specific challenge as part of my third year. I first noticed it when I began feeling deflated, particularly when reflecting on my day at the hospital and when I became short-tempered towards my partner. To try and help prevent this, I catch up with my psychologist or my GP – these are invaluable assets for every med student! Having an established relationship with the same GP for 10+ years and the psychologist for 2 years lets me know that I have a professional support team around me that know me well enough that I do not need to give them my whole life story whenever I feel the need to check in. I have been able to work through these periods of self-doubt to encourage less negative self-talk. Hopefully, this will allow me to grow my confidence and overcome these challenges going into my last year of med school and into my career.
As a 4th year medical student one of the biggest struggles this year has been to stay motivated. This was a something I had not anticipated as 4th year is usually the most exciting year of medical school: at hospital you have more trust from doctors and a tiny bit more independence; socially it is supposed to be a year of celebrating and having fun. However, this year has been ‘interesting’ for me and it has been hard to achieve a good work-life balance this year. Moreover, although it is exciting to graduate, you do come to realise that although it is the end of medical school it is only Step One of being an actual doctor. When my motivation drops, I find that studying becomes a chore – I lose interest really quickly, procrastinate more and I just find that I don’t enjoy life as much. When this happens, I just take a complete break for a week or so and then try again.
This year I have struggled creating a balanced routine between work and personal life. Long hours at the hospital combined with study can often make it difficult for me to give my personal life the attention it deserves. While this is something that I did anticipate, it is nevertheless a challenge and something that can affect my mental health. I know it’s becoming a problem when I begin to develop poor eating habits, have reduced motivation to work out or become emotionally overwhelmed by relatively small things. When I notice these signs, I try to seek support from good friends and treat myself to delicious food. I have learned to become kinder to myself, and I think this has had a huge impact and I have seen an improvement in my overall wellbeing as a result.
As a resident, uncertainty is probably my biggest concern. In particular, thinking about training pathways and future job prospects are things that can weigh heavily on my mind from time to time. While my clinical experience is growing, the increasing responsibilities that come with it can be challenging to manage especially when there is sometimes a mismatch between expectations and my experience. I’ve found, however, that the more I talk about it to my colleagues (particularly my senior colleagues) the more prepared I feel to meet those challenging expectations. In saying that, it is also always useful to have a versatile mental tool kit. For me, physical tells (especially fatigue, irritability and loss of focus) are signs that I should start addressing what’s going on. I tend to troubleshoot from top down: am I eating well; am I exercising enough; am I lacking sleep? If it’s unlikely to be a physical cause, it might be a sign of mental health stress. To try and prevent that, I try to maintain a well-rounded support network, keep an open mind, be optimistic, make times for my hobbies, identify ways to de-stress, and – most importantly – knowing when and who to ask for help if needed. There are a lot of uncertainties we have to deal with every day as clinicians and there are always times where you will encounter setbacks and challenges. But, if you have good self-awareness and problem-solving skills, you will be just fine.
The transition from being a registrar and being part of a training program for 5 years to a consultant feels like getting to the top rung of the ladder. It’s similar to transitioning from a medical student to an intern or from an intern to a registrar; it’s an achievement but also a huge change in expectations and responsibilities. It is gratifying and exciting to kick off this stage of my career: the product of 10-12 years of work. At the same time, it is also bit daunting. Being a consultant is one of the leadership roles of a team of junior doctors (interns, residents, and registrars) as well as nursing staff, allied health and a variety of other health professionals. I did anticipate this would be a steep learning curve for me. I try to keep check of how people interact with me like their tone and body language as I find that can help me notice when I might be getting stressed or anxious. I notice when I am starting to not deal with things well as I can find myself being more impulsive or working overtime to try and figure out a problem. I find it helps to take a step back, assess the situation, and either find a solution or let go if there isn’t one to be found. I think it’s so important to remember that bad outcomes can happen to anyone and that help is always around. I try to use every challenging situation as a learning experience; they help you to grow as a person not only in your career but also in other realms of life.
As a younger consultant I was motivated to do long hours of shift work and weekend work. I was able to cope with the transition from competent doer to novice learner when it came to adopting new technology. The medical profession in general and my speciality in particular is very collegiate. There is an expectation to perform at a certain standard. During the years in training and later in the profession we observe and learn from the career paths of your seniors and peers and you have to adapt your practice based on these learnings. However, it has become increasingly difficult to keep myself as driven. I find myself lacking the will to do work outside regular hours. I also find keeping up to date with massive inflow of information, communication and new technology overwhelming at times. I notice this can put a strain on my relationships; I lose my temper easily and I am not inclined to meet and socialise with people. However, I have had the good fortune of a close family network. In the early stages of my career constant advice and suggestions from my mother and brother helped me manage some life changing events. I also try to exercise and use it as a sort of meditation. I read books and listen to philosophical discourses. Watching sport and movies are my main methods for relaxation. I have worked to strengthen my relationships and in overcoming my struggles I have become a role model for my children.
If you would like to talk to someone about the content of these stories, please message Yasha Makkoth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thanks to Vinny Abeygunawardana for designing the banner.