By Dr. Florence Chan
“Hey Florence. I know you’re busy, but I’m in a moment in time where I really need you and I really want to talk to you. Can you call me as soon as you can?”
This message from my dearest friend arrived in my inbox while I was deep asleep after my 24-hour call shift on General Surgery. Needless to say, when I finally woke up six hours later, I scrambled to call them right away. As I was waiting for my friend to pick up the phone, I couldn’t help but to feel this overwhelming guilt that swallowed me whole.
“Why wasn’t I there?”
“Why wasn’t I available?”
“Am I a horrible friend?”
I’m sure you all have similar stories like this one that we can relate to. You see, this is why residency is hard. It’s not just because of the medicine or the patients or even the workload. It’s the moments that we invariably miss because of the nature of our jobs. It’s the little sacrifices that perhaps feel like they aren’t even worth mentioning. Whether it’s not being available for a friend in need, missing a loved one’s birthday or being late to a gathering (ahem, pre-covid). All of these things chip away at the relationships that we value in our lives.
You can only cancel on your friends so many times before they stop inviting you completely.
You can only be late for dinner so many times before your partner stops expecting you.
Every relationship requires nurturing in order to thrive. So how exactly can we spend the quality time that each of our relationships deserves, without feeling like we might be compromising the quality of our work? As much as I wish I had an evidence-based approach to maintaining relationships or have a lot of wisdom to impart, the truth is I don’t. I struggle with balancing work and keeping up with my life as much as the next resident physician does. What I can do however is challenge us (yes, including myself) to think differently.
As physicians, we all got to where we are today because we work hard. There is no doubt about that. But in this new year, I challenge us to not work too hard.
On our days off, commit to prioritize our relationships with our loved ones. Go watch that movie we’ve been waiting to watch with our partner. Go bake that batch of cookies our siblings have been itching to make together. Go join our parents for that walk by the park in the evening. Do so wholeheartedly without thinking about all the patients that we should be pre-reading on or all the work that we need to do come the next day.
When we wrap up our work for the day, don’t spend every waking hour reading up on procedures or guidelines. Put down our books, pick up the phone and call someone we love to ask them how their day was. Show them we care, even though we may not be available at all times. Show them that although we care deeply about our patients, it doesn’t mean that they are forgotten.
Remember, medicine is a part of all of our identities, but it isn’t all that we are.
Dr. Florence Chan is a rural family medicine resident physician at the University of Alberta.