Seven survival tips for doctors in training
You’ve completed your studies, done your internship and are finally qualified to practise. You might think the worst is behind you, but research is increasingly showing that junior doctors in training are one of the most vulnerable groups in medicine.
According to a 2008 AMA survey, junior doctors routinely work up to 60 hours a week, with most sleeping less than seven hours and only a quarter finding the time to exercise regularly.
But it’s not just the long hours that can be deleterious, it’s also the lack of autonomy that goes with the job, with junior doctors having little say over how and where they spend those long hours.
The hours, coupled with uncertainty over placements, can take a heavy toll on personal relationships and family life. Days off are few and far between, and the temptation can be to use any spare time to do work-related activities rather than enjoy proper down time.
The workplace itself can add to a junior doctor’s stress. Doctors may be uncertain about their future, suffer inflexible work conditions and may be exposed to abuse from patients as well as bullying from senior colleagues. It can be a bewildering minefield for a doctor fresh out of internship to navigate.
Here are some tips for staying healthy and keeping your sanity during the training years:
- Research as much as possible the demands of each specialty, including hours and placements. That way you’ll have a clearer idea of whether it fits in with your idea of an appropriate and healthy lifestyle.
- Adopt a mentor: many hospitals have mentorship programs, and having a senior consultant with whom you can discuss clinical, professional and career-related issues on a one-on-one basis can be an enormous help.
- Keep close relations with your peers. It’s good to find colleagues with whom you can socialise outside shift hours: that way, you’ll be able to debrief each other and also lean on each other through the tough times.
- Make your own health your priority: you can’t manage other people’s health if you can’t manage your own. Find a GP before you need one, particularly if you’re moving to a new area. And resist the pressure to turn up for work when you’re sick: it’s not good for you, your patients or your colleagues.
- Find time for physical exercise: it’s not only good for your health, it’s essential for combating inevitable work fatigue and potential burnout.
- Work at maintaining family relationships and friendships: they are your outside support network, giving you perspective and helping you manage day-to-day stress.
- Maintain or develop outside interests. Whether it’s sport, playing music or going to the movies, non-medical interests will help you find some work-life balance and can be an important de-stressor.
The Australian Medical Association has a wide range of online resources for doctors in training on their website.
For more information about health issues for doctors, access a range of online resources from Doctors’ Health Services Pty Ltd.