Burnout blues? Here’s the one thing you need to do more of.

By Sylvan Waller | February 27, 2020

I have one secret that has helped me stay consistently engaged and inspired through my twenty year career in healthcare: I’ve figured out how to leverage my skills to have fun.

Yep, I said it. Being a physician can — and should — be fun. Stick with me.

In residency many physicians learn that you need to find your niche in medicine.

You need to have a professional pursuit that complements your day to day practice, they say. It gives you context, provides a change of pace, engages your talents in a different but complementary way.

That niche might be academic research, volunteering in a local clinic, teaching residents or medical students, traveling for medical missionary work, getting involved in your local or national specialty chapters, or doing advocacy work.

All of these opportunities leverage your existing background and skill set and allow you to build a niche that complements your practice.

But what if, instead of as a professional best practice to advance your career, you viewed your niche as an excuse to have fun?

Photo by Alexandra Dech on Unsplash

Early in my career I was interested in adventure racing. Athletes would go for days at a time, running, mountain biking, kayaking, and climbing through a series of challenges as a team. Many of these teams were professional and supported by sponsors. These people were tough as nails to survive the actual race. This was all before Tough Mudder or Spartan Races, but was the early elite version of the current trend.

I wanted to get involved, so I reached out to the organizers of the Subaru Eco-Challenge and offered my time as medical support.

I spent the weekend camping around Lake Tahoe, California and getting to see these racers up close. We took care of the minor bumps and sprains as well as making more significant calls like taking people out of the race for dehydration, hypothermia, or major trauma. The experience was fantastic and brought great satisfaction using the knowledge we have worked so hard to learn to care for people in need.

Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

Through that experience I was able to:

  • Travel to one of my favorite places in the country
  • Meet inspirational athletes
  • Work alongside like-minded physicians
  • Spend time in nature
  • Get time away from the daily demands of life to think and reflect
  • Reset my headspace to better prioritize my life back at home

… all by volunteering my time.

Friends of mine do this in many non-traditional ways, from being part of the team that provides medical care for the Super Bowl, to supporting cycling races, and even mixed martial arts events.

I recently had a chance to work one of these MMA events and during the course of the day, we saw and treated sprains, cuts, and dislocations, as well as the more severe injuries of fighters who ended up unconscious. Volunteering in this capacity inspired me to check out MMA on my own, and I now compete regularly to stay in shape and challenge myself.

It’s up to you to decide where your skills would be best put to use. But using your skills to help others in a pursuit you enjoy can put a lot of passion back into your practice and remind you why you practice medicine in the first place.

Remember, whatever your interest, there may be a need for your help, clinical or otherwise — and as is usually the case, you’ll likely wind up getting even more than you give.

This post originally appeared in my newsletter. Want stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox once a month? Sign up here. No spam, I promise.