The Physician’s Quality of Life

Quality of Life, as defined in the Oxford dictionary, is the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group. As physicians, we often talk about the quality of life of our patients, and how we can help them achieve that. However, how often do we consider our own quality of life? If you research current burnout rates for physicians in the U.S., you will see various sources citing different studies that indicate numbers ranging from 37.9% to 44%. Most often the numbers cited are highest among frontline providers such as emergency medicine, family practice, and internal medicine docs, but docs in all fields of medicine experience burnout at a higher rate than the rest of the population. So my question is, with nearly 1 out of every 2 physicians in the U.S. exhibiting signs of burnout, how good can their quality of life actually be? And most importantly, how can they make it better?

I believe there need to be huge systematic changes in the world of medicine: changes in physician expectations, numbers of patients seen per hour, metrics measured, decreased responsibility with clerical tasks, hours worked, etc. I could go on for a long time. However, on an individual level, all of those changes are out of the control of a physician’s hands. The one thing they CAN control, though, is their response, their reaction, their resilience in the face of these adverse situations. The ability to do this can only be augmented through the practice of MENTAL FITNESS. 

So what is MENTAL FITNESS? Mental fitness, like physical fitness, is the process by which one can increase strength, control, agility, and ability to recover; but, of the mind, instead of the body. It is what gives us our capacity to handle life’s challenges with a positive mindset, rather than being consumed by anxiety, stress, anger, frustration, disappointment, shame, etc… Like physical fitness, we are all at varying levels, and there is no endpoint. Additionally, in order to maintain the benefits of training, we can’t stop practicing, and expect to remain “fit”. Also similarly to physical fitness, some may have a genetic predisposition to being more fit than others, but regardless of the stage of fitness, everyone can benefit from improved mental fitness. 

At this point, I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “How does any of this relate to physician quality of life?” Well, I’m here to tell you that with improved mental fitness we can achieve a better quality of life. Not only is it is the path by which we can, as individuals, bring to ourselves more discernment, more empowerment, and more focus, making our day to day interactions more fulfilling; but, it also engenders collaboration and recognition of others’ strengths, so that when we come together as groups to create changes in the medical systems and organizations at large, we can be much more effective.

Be on the lookout in my upcoming blogs for more information on Mental Fitness, the science behind it, what the practice of mental fitness looks like, and much more!

ARCH INTERN MED/VOL 172 (NO. 18), OCT 8, 2012 WWW.ARCHINTERNMED.COM
Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 486 Volume 20, no. 3: May 2019

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