Switching Gears When You Leave The Hospital

When you’re a resident, the work you’re doing is incredibly valuable. And impactful. It would be the height of hubris to think that we aren’t affected by the work as well. There are always real-life patients, diagnoses, pathology that we lie awake thinking of, and worrying about at night. Even distinct from the disease and very real people – plus their families – afflicted, there’s so much else that goes into daily resident life. Complex scheduling, an inpatient rounding list, outpatient clinics, didactics lectures, and of course there’s somehow always a Grand Rounds talk to prepare. We’re also thinking of the textbook chapters we need to read, board prep questions, and research papers! All this to say, resident physicians have a lot going on. It’s enough to bog down and burn out even a brilliant and efficient mind. 

How can you protect yourself from the experience of being a resident? How does anyone unplug when they’re leaving their shift or long day at the hospital? Having a boundary or a separation between one’s self and work goes a long way in terms of self-preservation.

Here’s a system that took a few years to hone but by the end of training, worked for me.

–       Centering breaths. When I would get in my car in the hospital parking garage, I would take a few deep breaths. Physically anchor my hands on the steering wheel or center console, which is a great physical augment to deep centering breaths.

–       Phone call for any venting or ranting. I would call my husband on the way home. We initiated a clear policy: any ranting about the day, things that went wrong, bullying that occurred – would be discussed during this phone call. It took me about 12-15 minutes to get home every day. When I would arrive home and the call ended, there was a clear transition to my very-much-in-contrast home life, which was a peaceful and cozy space with my family. The reason we came up with this plan is because I did not want to bring the energy of the hospital home with me to an otherwise safe space.

–       Outfit change. I changed my clothes right away upon arriving home. The more physical cues that I had to separate from the hospital, the easier it was to actually do. Even though yes, I often took home call, the action of changing into clean and comfier “home” clothes outweighed the inconvenience of changing back into scrubs to inevitably head back into the hospital. 

–       Sitting on the ground with a pet. Sounds simple, but there is a lot of evidence out there that pets can help us regulate our nervous system. Hugging my dog and sitting with him on the ground for a few minutes is as close to any salve that I’ve found to melt away the stress of the day.

These specific recommendations may not work for everyone, but the important thing is finding a routine that can help bring you into the present and away from the hospital. As Cheryl Strayed once wrote,

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life.”


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