When most people think of physicians, they think of you as the class nerds or the smart kids who got all good grades at school, were on math teams or participated at the science Olympiad.
So, there is this idea in society that you, doctors, are perfect in any way.
But you are also human beings, who make the same mistakes as everyone else. In fact, you often make more basic mistakes, than the average person.
This is only because you spend so much of your young adult lives, following a predetermined career path. That path requires a tremendous investment of time and energy, which leaves little room for outside learning, failing, exploring, and refining many basic life skills, that would serve you well to revisit today.
Here is a list of ten common mistakes you make as a doctor, that you can correct if you desire to do so.
1. You create your entire identity around career
When someone asks you what you do for a living, you often say: “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a (insert specialty).” Instead of saying: “I practice medicine” or “I practice (insert specialty).”
It’s a subtle shift, but it makes a huge difference in how you see yourself. When what someone does, becomes who they are, there is little room left for all the other parts of the person.
Making this shift doesn’t mean that you will be less of a doctor. It just means you recognize that you are much more than a doctor. Being a doctor is a very important part of your identity, but it is only one aspect.
The sooner this shift has been made, the earlier you start to embrace all of who you are and all the beauty and joy that comes with that.
2. You forget to ‘’put your own oxygen mask on, first’’
The culture of medical training teaches doctors always put their patients’ needs above their own. You endure sleep deprivation, long nights and weekends, work after hours and on days off, and lack protected time to take care of your health needs while telling your patients to avoid these same things.
That can work for a while, even years or sometimes decades. But at some point, you run out of air and can’t help anyone else.
Many of the women who are also the main caregivers for others in family, choose to reduce hours and thus significant compensation to compensate for these realities of the profession.
Sometimes it works, but not always. You work for a health care system that forgets to take care of the physician. In this case we can say: The flight attendant is not going to put on that oxygen mask for you.
That’s your job. So, you need to prioritize their own physical and mental health.
3. You are not becoming financially literate
When you are in training, you often work for what amounts to less than minimum wage for hours put in. Then you get out and start making real money, often three or four times what you made in training.
At the same time, you are saddled with often multiple six-figure debts.
You have been watching your non-medical friends make good money for years and start buying homes and building families there, and you are tired of all the delayed gratification.
Because you often don’t know any better, as no one really taught you how to manage this major change in your financial lives, you overspend and get yourselves into trouble straight out of the gate.
4. Not protecting your time
After years of work in medicine, you realize that you could have had better use of your time. You learned to say no to some things, so you could say yes to others. Saying no is hard for many young and not-so-young physicians.
Your time is pulled in so many directions, and there are often no clear boundaries set up to protect it. If physicians were left to make some decisions for themselves, they would choose to do the things that matter most to them.
5. Not knowing your worth
You often forget that medicine can’t run without the doctor. Yes, there are some excellent ones who are extremely capable and competent and, as a group, maybe taking over medicine to some extent.
You abdicate control to too many other players and forget your own value. You ask for extra time or resources to best serve your patients or to do x, y, and z and then get upset when the answer is no.
You ask rather than tell. You forget that the system needs you more than you need them. You don’t want to seem like you can’t handle things. You don’t want to trouble your scheduler or appear incompetent in any way.
So, you devalue yourselves.
You forget your true value. You are not just providers. You deliver care from a depth of knowledge and training that no one else around you can even come close to touching.
You assume a level of responsibility and liability that no one else has or wants. Let’s not forget that.
6. You are not creating a personal mission statement
Most places where physicians work have some sort of a mission statement that outlines the goals or values of an organization.
As part of that group, it is implied that you are following that mission created by someone else (unless you are the owner and created the mission statement yourself).
But how many doctors have a personal mission statement that they live by? How many of you have a drafted vision that you can go back to anytime a new role arises or a new opportunity presents itself to which you can refer before making any decision to proceed.
It is important that every new doctor creates this personal mission statement for his life and check in with it each time he makes any career decisions moving forward.
7. Practicing medicine ‘’for yourself’’
Most people who go into medicine, they do it for themselves. You chose medicine after trying so, so hard to find a different career path. But medicine drew you in as it does to so many.
You must remain acutely aware that regardless of what brought you to this career, most of you are helpers at heart, and your primary purpose here is to heal others, not ourselves.
So, if you are looking for medicine to make you feel smart or important or rich, you are in the wrong place.
8. Not taking care of your own first
As you can see in the war situation playing out right now, so many people around the world want to help those struggling to escape and build a brand-new life.
But if you had a beloved grandmother or sister or close friend directly impacted by the current events, that’s where your efforts would be directed first.
Before you help everyone else, you must help yourself. Yet try being a physician and getting your own appointment with a doctor these days. Take good care of yourself!
9. Forgetting to nurture friendships
One of the most common themes among physicians in online forums is their sense of isolation. Medicine is often a lonely business. You take call by yourself or with a small team if you’re lucky. You make decisions on your own much more often than in groups or teams.
Responsibility falls to you alone more often than not. If your spouse or life partner is not medical, they may not understand everything you go through.
Or maybe you have no partner or one who is physically there but emotionally disconnected and so even home feels like a lonely place.
Part of what made medical school was the comradery, the connection you felt with all your classmates who knew what you were going through and with whom you spent so much time together outside the classroom or hospital wards.
Then you all left and went your separate ways, and everything seemed to change. It took much more effort to stay connected. You lost touch with too many great colleagues.
Life got busy and more complicated. It’s never too late, but this is one mistake you truly regret. Make plans to visit each other and pick up the phone whenever you can.
10. Forgetting who you were before medicine
Remember your past self? Remember your passion? You had a fire in you. You wanted to change the world. You wanted to go off to different countries and help those in need.
You loved to read books, dance, travel, and explore. You took long walks. You rode your bike. You liked to cook or bake. You wrote for fun. You wanted to learn a new language or scuba dive.
You wanted to have long, deep, meaningful conversations with friends in a coffee shop.
That person is still there. Maybe you still do some of these things. But you stopped some of the other ones. You forgot your passions. You forgot what lights you up.
You forgot who you are. That person is still you.