Healing the Healer: Working in the Field of Medicine, and Coping with Stress

Healing the Healer:  Working in the Field of Medicine, and Coping with Stress

Working in the field of medicine is one of the most noble and rewarding professions where you can have an opportunity to truly change someone’s life.  However, since this field will present you with numerous challenges and stressful situations, you need to learn how to help yourself in order to be able to help others.

Learn to learn

The stressful journey into the field of medicine starts the moment you enrol into the course. Not only are you faced with thousands of pages to learn for a single exam, but you also have internships at hospitals where you get to experience the life of a doctor for the first time. All of this can be quite overwhelming for a student of medicine, so it’s important for you to acquire appropriate studying habits that will help you retain knowledge better and study more effectively. In addition, since doctors are lifelong students, these techniques might come in handy later on.

Find a mentor

Having someone to guide you through difficult and stressful situations can help you overcome numerous challenges. Whether it’s your professor or another mentor – not only can they impart their wisdom onto you, but they can also help you discover what you want from your career or make you feel less alone when things get a bit chaotic. It’s important that you find a mentor from the very beginning because they can give you valuable advice regarding various stressful situations, such as the challenging Graduate Medical School Admissions Test or working with patients for the first time. A mentor can provide you with a lot of support and comfort, which can help you relieve stress significantly.

Become professionally detached

Professional detachment is one of the most important qualities that a person working in the field of medicine needs to acquire. You’ll be faced with a lot of difficult situations, bad case, and traumatic events where staying objective and calm is imperative. You need to suppress your innate sense of sympathy in order to be able to deal with the immediate life threat. If you let your emotions overwhelm you, you won’t be able to function in the medical environment. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be empathic and compassionate towards your patients. You still need to be a caring doctor and reassure your patients, but remain emotionally reserved. Professional detachment is crucial for fighting against compassion fatigue that can be caused by caring too much.

Taking care of other people brings a lot of challenges and responsibilities.

Deal with your emotions

Becoming professionally detached doesn’t mean that you should completely repress your emotions and avoid facing certain problems. You still need to deal with your emotions, but later on when you’ve done your job. Even if you completely repress your emotions, they will keep coming back, which can seriously impede your ability to focus on the task at hand. You should talk about a stressful situation with your partner, colleague or a mentor, because they can help you come to terms with it and move on. Constantly repressing your emotions can cause even more serious problems, such as substance abuse or health issues, which can ruin your entire career.

Find an outlet

One of the best ways to deal with stress is to find an outlet that will help you channel your emotions into something more constructive, such as art or physical activity. Regular exercise is one of the most effective stress relievers that can enhance your general well-being. After a really bad day, it will feel really good if you can just run it off or express your feelings through writing or painting.

Use humour

Being able to joke around with your colleagues about certain stressful situations can help you relieve a lot of emotional tension. Giving your negative feelings a more positive note is a defensive technique called sublimation that often takes the form of ‘gallows humour’. In some situations, laughter truly is the best medicine.

Own up to your errors

As in every other aspect of your life, there will be errors and incidents. Instead of burying them, you should own up to your mistakes and find out what caused them. Don’t hesitate to talk over those incidents with the colleagues who respect you because they can give you valuable feedback and provide you with support. In addition, they may have gone through similar situations, and knowing that you’re not the only one who made such a mistake can truly be stress-relieving.

Forgive yourself

If you’ve made a mistake that has possibly harmed a patient, the most important thing is to forgive yourself. Constantly blaming yourself won’t do you any good. You’ll fall into the vicious circle of self-guilt and depression, which can have a detrimental effect not only on your career, but also on your health. You need to learn as much as possible from that mistake, understand it and then leave it behind you. Taking care of other people brings a lot of challenges and responsibilities, and coming to terms with your mistakes is one of them.

Don’t hesitate to seek help

Finally, if you’re constantly under a lot of pressure and your work affects your personal life and your family, you should consider seeking professional help. Psychological counselling can help you deal with the stress of your profession, which can consequently help you be better at your job. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of other people either.

Being a doctor is a truly challenging profession that can really take its toll if you don’t take care of yourself. However, if you acquire appropriate stress management techniques, learn to distance yourself and go easy on yourself, you’ll be able to truly make a difference.


Isabel William is a Body & Mind Balance Consultant. She describes herself as lover of literature and philosophy, runner, and Tai Chi master. She believes that sometimes it is just enough to enjoy a really good book, smooth jazz and a cup of coffee to travel somewhere else.You can connect with her on Twitter @Isabel_FWilliam


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