A medical doctor and a two-time Amazon No. 1 bestselling author, Dr. Shola Ezeokoli works with doctors and other high-achieving professionals to help them fight burnout, liberate themselves from survival mode and truly live the life that they want to live.
Q: What inspired you to write Physician Heal Yourself?
A: I wrote Physician Heal Yourself as part and parcel of the answer to the current scourge of physician burnout. Current statistics show that most doctors in the U.S., at one time or another, have suffered from symptoms of burnout. With a physician shortage across the country, and more and more dedicated physicians leaving the profession, it is time that we faced the problem head on. As someone who suffered burnout and successfully overcame it, I feel duty-bound to help my colleagues defeat and prevent the same in their lives.
Q: What is “Do-gooder Syndrome” and how can it be addressed?
A: A do-gooder is a person who although well meaning, ends up becoming a nuisance. Because doctors tend to be well meaning and sacrificial by the nature of our profession, it leads to a tendency to become extremely idealistic. We can do good without becoming a do-gooder. The most important way to avoid being a do-gooder is to realize that you cannot be everything to everyone, and that you have to set boundaries. Because doctors are in the business of saving lives, there is a tendency to view even non-emergent things as emergent. When we do this, especially when we think that we have to handle these “non-emergent emergencies” ourselves, we create a culture around ourselves that ensures that the buck always stops with us and that we take the fall for everything that goes wrong. Instead of seeing yourself as the solution to everything, learn to delegate appropriately things that can and should be handled by other members of staff or other members of the team. Realize that as a human being you are a finite resource. You do not have a never-ending supply of time or energy. My watch word for avoiding the “do-gooder syndrome” is to think, “what is my best and highest?” not “how can I make sure that I do everything that there is to be done?”
Q: What are some tips for lowering stress levels and learning how to create a work-life balance?
A: 1. Acceptance of the current state of affairs: Many doctors deny that they are dealing with burnout, or facing burnout. One first has to come face-to-face with the reality, because you cannot solve a problem if you do not acknowledge its existence.
2. Itemize the contributors to the stress: If the stress is from work, family, financial, relationships, chronic illness or situational, it has to be identified. Identification of the direct causes and contributions to stress will lead to the ability to brainstorm solutions. In some instances where there is no immediate or lasting solution, different modalities for stress relief are applicable.
3. Practice modalities of stress relief: Breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, retraining your mind to see the positive in stressful situations; taking short breaks or vacations every so often; frequent exercise, an engaging hobby or passion, calming or relaxing music, journaling, are so many different ways in which one can find stress relief.
One creates a work-life balance by:
1. Setting boundaries: As a physician, it is not always easy to leave work at work. However, don’t make it a habit of constantly taking your work home. This takes some creativity, but it can be done. For example, I have friends who almost always do patient charts at home. Before I retired from practice, in the six years that I worked as an outpatient physician, I only did charts at home three times.
2. Being present in every moment: When you are at home, and with your family, live in the moment, as opposed to spending that time thinking about other things, or allowing other things to creep in to your family time.
3. Scheduling: Put specific things on your calendar to do at specific times so that you don’t end up just living by default. Schedule breaks, schedule fun things to do, and stick to them except for during emergencies.
Q: How can practitioners prevent themselves from feeling overwhelmed?
A: One can prevent oneself from becoming overwhelmed by realizing that just like feeling sad or angry, feeling overwhelmed is an emotion that one can control also. Some practical tips include:
1. Learning what things trigger feelings of overwhelm in you, and remove them, or change your response to them.
2. Working calming activities into your life so that you are not rushing around at the frenetic pace all the time.
3. Multitask less: Multitasking gives you the illusion of being able to handle many things at once, but in truth, no person can do to serious tasks at the same time. The more we tried to do at once, the more overwhelmed we feel.
4. Get organized and declutter your workspace: Having a lot of clutter around you is multiple things calling for your attention, thus producing feelings of overwhelm.
Manage your time, and don’t throw too many things on your calendar than reasonable. I love the Latin saying “festina lente” which means, “Make haste slowly.” Train yourself to slow down and not constantly live at a frenetic pace. Be realistic about what you can do in a given amount of time.
Q: Can you explain the concept of “Time Unmanagement?”
A: I use the phrase “time unmanagement” because no one can control time. Since we can’t control time, can we really manage it? The best we can do is to take the 24 hours a day and use it to produce our best and highest. Instead of trying to squeeze things into less time, start with an audit of your time where you actually figure out where you are spending time, and how much free time you have in every 24 hours. If you are spending time in ways that do not push you towards whatever your life goals are, start to make changes in those particular areas. For example, let’s say you want to spend more time with your family, but you find that you spent five hours a day watching TV. The first thing to do would be to reduce the TV hours for time spent with your family. Without an audit of where your time is already going, it is almost impossible to make lasting changes when it comes to spending your time differently. I talk about other “time unmanagement” tips in my book.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: My book, Physician Heal Yourself, while written for physicians, has practical applications for everyone, no matter what profession you are in. In addition, the book is an eye-opener into the world of physicians. This will hopefully move the conversation around physician burnout closer to finding a solution.