male doctor with head resting in hand looking out window

Doctors Are People, Too

There’s a cartoon that shows a preschooler in a waiting room, asking his mother, “Do doctors ever get sick like real people?”

Apps for teaching kids about doctors’ work:

Doctors may seem superhuman to many who depend on them, but they are very much “real people,” and they definitely can get sick. They can even sabotage their own health, as seen in these quotes from doctors interviewed by Good Housekeeping:

  • “I was an antibiotic junkie—taking four or five courses a year. Then [I learned] that regular courses of antibiotics adversely affect your immune system [and since cutting back], I now have one [cold] every couple of years [down from six a year].” (Tim Spector, consultant physician)
  • “I was extremely worried about my risk of skin cancer and have avoided the sun [for years. Then] I was shocked to find I was way down in the deficient range [for vitamin D].” (Sarah Jarvis, general practitioner)
  • “I reached a point when … I was exhausted, grumpy, and not fun to be around! [Now] I take things one at a time, try to focus and do each thing mindfully. Most of all, I tell myself that good enough really is good enough, whatever you’re doing.” (Chireal Shallow, consultant psychologist)

A Field of Stressors

Accepting that “good enough is good enough” may be where doctors find it hardest to follow their own advice. Medicine is by nature a stressful field, with interruptions and impossible demands more the rule than the exception. Factor in malpractice worries and medical misinformation, and it’s little surprise that half of U.S. doctors struggle with burnout, 15 percent battle chemical addiction, and over 300 a year die by suicide.

And not all the contributing bad attitudes come from unreasonable patients or demanding supervisors. Doctors, like anyone else, can be their own worst enemies in expecting too much of themselves, feeling too busy to take well-earned breaks and vacations, procrastinating on seeking necessary help. The worst kind of pressure to be superhuman comes from within: it’s a nightmare to argue with, and impossible to walk away from.

You may not be in the best of moods when you visit your own doctor—especially for a recently diagnosed disorder that you wonder if you’ll ever make peace with—but remember that life isn’t easy for them either. A kind word and a friendly smile will brighten any doctor’s day.

Apps for stress management:

Doctor in the Family

If you, or someone in your family, are the doctor under stress, don’t wait for things to get serious. Be an example of good health habits:

  • If you’re tempted to cheat “just a little” on sleep, nutrition, or exercise, ask yourself, “What would I tell a patient in this situation?”
  • Dress professionally but comfortably for work. Especially, don’t wear shoes that make your feet hurt.
  • Take all the down time and vacation time you’re entitled to. And leave your work devices at home.
  • Have a regular doctor of your own. Keep up with recommended vaccines and checkups.
  • Do not write your own prescriptions: get them from a separate, objective doctor. Many an addiction begins with a doctor trusting his or her own judgment instead of standard prescription protocol.
  • Join a peer support group for accountability sticking to your health goals.
female doctor talking on phone sitting against wall on floor

Good-health apps for doctors (and everyone else):

See also: Heroes Are Human, Too on mental–emotional challenges of first responders.

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