Jeff makes a great point in his recent article, Work-Life Balance IS Hard. I Focus On My Rhythm. Trying too hard to achieve balance in our lives leaves us unbalanced. Who has not had a sleepless night worrying about not getting enough sleep in preparation for an important meeting, presentation, or event? How can anyone ever truly achieve balance?
I posit a counterpoint. Balance is maintaining a “balance” of energy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that an isolated system will move toward disorder. We cannot function as surgeons, spouses/partners, parents, or friends when the gas tank is empty; the battery has lost its charge; or, the well is dry! We are not perpetual motion machines. We need rest to reorder our lives. There is truth in the cliché “You cannot care for others if you do not first care for yourself.”
Practicing Balance for Surgeons
As an orthopaedic surgeon, we often prescribe RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, & Elevation) when we see an ankle sprain. However, for our own wellness, we should be prescribing RIDE (Rest, Introspection, Decompression, & Energy). Nine hours of restless sleep limits sleep’s value. Weight lifters do not perform maximum lifts with every muscle group every day, but alternate muscle groups to allow rest and recovery.
Physician burnout is a long-term stress reaction marked by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. The exhaustion comes from insufficient rest. Mindfulness includes introspection. What recharges our batteries? If we have enough self-insight and honesty, are we willing to admit that we are burning out or already burned out? Are we willing to decompress our busy, stressful schedules and heal?
Finding Balance Through Practice
When I was younger, I was accused of burning the candle at both ends. In typical male one-upmanship, I said, “No, I break the candle in half and burn it from four ends!” I have the failed relationships and emotional scars that such hubris brings. It is said that wisdom comes from poor choices and good choices come from wisdom. Now I love walking through the forest on the Olympic peninsula with my wife, our dogs, and our goats. In his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Qing Li describes the therapeutic Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku. We are not going to prove the Second Law of Thermodynamics wrong. We risk our health and wellness trying!
We all need to discover what energizes us, be it prayer, meditation, yoga, or nature.
What feeds your soul?
Do you want to contribute? Email Team@SurgeonMasters.com to share your perspective with the community.
Gregory Brown, MD, PhD, FAOA, FAAOS
Greg is board-certified in Orthopaedic Surgery and subspecialty-certified in Sports Medicine. His clinical practice includes orthopaedic trauma, total joint arthroplasty, and sports medicine. He has worked in academic and private practice settings, urban and rural practices. He was Associate Chief of Surgery for Outcomes at Park Nicollet Health Services. He is past-president of the Minnesota Orthopaedic Society (2005-2006) and the Washington State Orthopaedic Association (2017-2018), served on AAOS and AOA committees, and received two national awards for research on venous thromboembolism prophylaxis.