We all do it at one time or another.

Maybe the office or clinic is closed, but you’re on call waiting for the phone to ring and take your attention away from family, friends, and festivities.

Is it a source of stress or have you learned to go with the flow?

There are many things that trigger us in medicine and in life.

In the first few years as an attending physician, holidays were a great source of stress for me.  I was the junior attending with little accumulated time off.  And I had the youngest children.  Yet when it came to holidays, seniority ruled, meaning I was on the schedule.  So, Christmas morning we’d have an early morning breakfast before I dropped my children at their grandparents and made my way to the hospital.

Sacrifice.  Back then that was the only word that came to mind. 

It was years before it stopped having a negative impact on me.

And it didn’t happen all at once.  Once I made it to the unit, I was often so busy that I would forget to be upset.  Holidays in the hospital meant potluck meals. The camaraderie was there as staff shared their favorite dishes with one another.

But as they day shift prepared to head home and the new team, who had spent the day with their families, arrived, resentment would creep back in.

Any suggestions about what’s a doc to do?

Well, here’s what helped me shift from feeling the sting of sacrifice to aligning with my calling.

  1. Stop making my feelings wrong. After all I’m human and it is completely okay to want to be with my family during the holidays. When I learned to stop making myself wrong for being upset about having to work on Christmas Day, the anger subsided, and peace took its place.  I reminded myself that my children were having a great time with relatives. We’d speak on the phone and be together in the morning.  The sentiment of the season was not limited to one day and we’d celebrate when we were together again.
  2. Focus on patient care.  Instead of creating an entire story about how unfair it was to have to work, I’d focus on doing the work, providing medical care for the patients with care and compassion.  The reward for that was priceless.  Appreciation flowed from families who sat at their son or daughter’s bedside as they recognized that the medical and nursing teams were here with the patients and not with their own families.  Connections were made and deepened.
  3. Honor my purpose. I became a doctor to serve my patients. It was my time to serve.  On the journey in medicine there will be times when our duty to patients will take priority over life’s events.  It’s in those moments that we step fully into our purpose.  Honor yourself in these moments.

As we look to the days and weeks ahead, be mindful of what holiday time means to you and to your colleagues.  Some will deliver patient care. Some will celebrate with family and friends. Some will be alone.  Some will be just fine. Some will be stressed. Some will be lonely. Be mindful of where you find yourself on the continuum.  Be mindful of others. This is a prime opportunity to be kind.

Blessings for the journey,

Dr. Stephanie