Could This PA's Novel Approach to Job Stress and Burnout Help You Too?

Practicing medicine is hard.
It forces us to interact with every kind of person, culture, and emotion. And it requires us to remain professional through it all. The pace is constant, no matter what specialty you’re in. There are always more demands on our time than we have the ability to fill.
This constant push can be draining both physically and emotionally, and can lead to dissatisfaction and burnout.

Sources of Strength

Many organizations are helping their staff and partners ease stress and find balance. Some even offer evidence-based practices and tips that are most effective when started early in our careers.
If your organization offers such a resiliency program, I would encourage you to look into it before you think you need it. We know better than most how prevention is better than treatment whenever possible.
Even with healthy practices for processing the myriad emotions we suppress, ignore, or release on our loved ones upon returning home, many of us feel the weight of fatigue in every form. During this time of year, I feel that tug the most. The weather pushes us indoors, colds and the flu overflow our lobbies, and the approaching holidays raise stress and emotions in each of us — for good or ill.
And it’s this time of year I feel the need to push forward even harder than ever. To move forward, always forward. A creative outlet can help.
Which is why I’ve committed to NaNoWriMo for the past three years, and will do so again this year.

Creative Coping

For those of you unfamiliar with this acronym (I’d bet most of you), NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s held internationally every November. Professional and amateur writers get together, online and in face-to-face writing groups, with the goal of each writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
There are encouragement and tip emails, online forums on every writing topic, and in-person meet ups, if desired. And for the type A personalities like me, there’s a chart on the website that tells you how many more words per day you have to write to reach your goal. It adjusts each time you update your word count. It’s fantastic.
Since starting, I’ve written multiple novel-length works; none are yet published. But this post isn’t about my writing and whether I'll hit the shelves at the local bookstore. It’s about the process of writing and how it’s improved and augmented my medical practice. And it’s about why I’d encourage you to try NaNoWriMo this year if there’s even a hint of interest in you.

Draw From Experience

Writing, or really any form of art, can be a release. No one but you ever needs to see it. It doesn’t have to be professional in quality, or even make sense. That fact in itself can be freeing.
I write scenes about events I’ve experienced and crimes for which I’ve treated the aftermath. I change the setting and fictionalize the characters and details of the event itself. But I write it from my own perspective and explore the emotions I felt.
Then I force myself to imagine the emotions of the other staff, of the victim, and even of the perpetrator. I’ve rewritten scenes from each of their perspectives just so I can better imagine what they may have been feeling and why.
I’ve screamed upon the page through my typing fingers and allowed my characters to inflict the justice I’d like to exact. I’ve saved the unsavable, made happy outcomes where they’re unlikely, and rejoiced with successes.
Then I let the story sit and return to reread it later. Sometimes I’m ashamed of my reactions and emotions, sometimes I discover my own biases, and sometimes I see a possible reason behind the villain’s behavior. Most of the time I find a better way to deal with the situation.
Then I rewrite the scene. While my emotions, whether sorrow, anger, or joy, are authentic and should be kept, I must also incorporate the emotions and motivations of others.
When I then return to my practice and look at that difficult patient, I look wider. By forcing myself to think of my character’s lives, it’s easier for me to imagine or understand the patient’s story, even when I don’t know its every detail. And then I can interact better. At least I hope it’s better.
The final way I think writing in general, and NaNoWriMo specifically, have helped my practice, is that they’re fun. I love it. I’ve found a hobby I enjoy and obsess over in my free time and would encourage you to try as well. Who knows, maybe you’ll love it too. And while it’s not foolproof, I think joy is a fairly good shield against the threat of burnout.

Want to Give It a Go?

So, if you’ve ever dreamt of writing, or have had a novel rattling in your head for years, check out this enjoyable means of learning the craft. And set yourself free. No one else needs to see your draft, so feel free to vent, rant, be silly, cry, or develop that machine you’ve always dreamed of (lobby door Ativan doser, anyone?).
It just might help and heal both yourself and your practice. Maybe we’ll see your name on the New York Times bestsellers list one day.
For those not inclined to write, I hope you seek out that thing that brings you joy and growth. Your site or company's resiliency program can be a great resource. Find another way, your way, to process what we face on a daily basis.
Do you use the creative arts to ease your mind and enrich your practice? Comment below to tell us about it.