Physician Wellness at the Personal Level

Last week we introduced the idea of physician wellness at the personal, organizational and cultural levels. This framework for thinking about wellness allows us to explore its various aspects. Today we will address the first of these levels–physician wellness as an individual.

Most physicians know a fair amount about personal wellness and share information with our patients regularly. Although much of wellness is basic tenets by which we live, the demands of medical training and practice do not make it easy. Many physicians readily admit it is difficult to walk the talk. However a necessary condition of being the best physician we can be for our patients is taking care of our own health. It really isn’t–nor has it ever been–optional. Organizations and the culture of medicine are beginning to recognize what we already know.

The imaged posted above shows a wellness wheel with aspects of our personal wellness divided into wedges. Wheels roll best when they are round. And so it is with the wellness wheel. When one aspect is excessive, the wheel has a bulge and it thrown out of balance. Likewise, when one aspect is limited, it shrinks and also throws the wheel out of balance.

Of note, symmetry of the wedges is not the goal. The needs of our physical health may be represented by a bigger wedge than the needs of our financial health, for example. At other times, it may be just the opposite. Instead, our goal may be to give the “right” amount of attention to all aspects of our wellness as it is needed. Needs are constantly changing; our priorities and time will vary accordingly. Also note that the division of our personal wellness into the aspects shown in the image is arbitrary. We could make altogether different divisions or even none at all as we recognize each part of our personal wellness affects the other. Finally, we should note that no one can define your personal wellness for you. You know what your needs are and whether you are living a healthy, well–balanced life. You know what requires more attention. There is no competition. There is no judgment. Medicine is hard enough–this is a chance to be gentle with yourself.

Physical wellness addresses habits that support optimal health and functioning of our body. It means being as well as we can with what we’ve got; leading an active lifestyle, eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and balancing periods of activity with periods of rest. How do we do this given the demands on our time and energy? What works?

Research shows that our social health is also an important contributor to our overall wellbeing. Examples of the social aspect of our wellness in medicine include creating a collegial work environment; enjoying time with friends and family; and developing professional and personal support networks. We all have stories of the toxic work environment. How do you recognize unhealthy situations and what did you do to distance yourself without causing professional suicide? What have you found that helps? How do you balance your social needs with the need for quiet, uninterrupted personal time?

Other aspects of our personal wellness will be explored in upcoming weeks and months. In the meantime, share with us your thoughts about the various aspects of physician wellness at the personal level.

Join us next week as we move ahead in our series to take a deeper look at physician wellness at the organizational level.

Posted in Blog.