By Monica Swanson
After years of medical school, residency, fellowships and getting a career up and running, many doctors find themselves existing with just the essentials. Hopefully they have kept their family intact through the process of becoming a doctor. But beyond that, the training required of a doctor can strip them of every “extra” in their life.
For instance, most doctors have had to step out of any sports teams or organized activities. They’ve often dropped their workouts. Home projects and/or yard work have likely taken the back seat too. And friends (those people that they used to kick back and watch a game with, hang out with on weekends)? They might just be a distant memory by now.
The bleak summary is that many doctors start their career out of shape, out of touch, with an overgrown yard and … no friends.
It’s funny, but it’s not.
I paint a sad picture here, and hopefully I’m exaggerating. I know that my husband (being an introvert to begin with) did hold on to a couple of life-long friends during his medical training years (or more like — they held on to him, bless them). Now that he is a practicing physician with a somewhat consistent schedule, he does have a few friends (or at least two, but who’s counting?). My husband is not complaining at all, but being the extrovert that I am, I always wish he had more good friends in his life.
I find this issue of developing new friends to be a bit tricky for a doctor as well. When my husband meets someone new, I notice that he avoids telling them his profession. I used to wonder why, until I realized the effect it can have when someone finds out he’s a doctor. It’s not true for everyone, but I think there can be some quick assumptions made when someone meets a doctor. One might assume that he is full of himself (which is so opposite of my husband), or that he is wealthy, and has a bunch of doctor friends that he hangs out with at country clubs (ha! even more opposite). Maybe some people are intimidated, imagining that doctors are too smart to just buddy around with.
Whatever it is, I have noticed that some men are quick to shut down a conversation after they find out my husband’s profession. That is really sad, because he’s a nice guy that would make for a really great friend.
I’ve talked to my husband about this issue of doctors and friendships, and we’ve agreed that every doctor needs two kinds of friends:
Doctor Friends: Every doctor can benefit from friends (or at least one good friend) who are doctors, perhaps in a different specialty than him or herself, but a doctor, none-the-less. A doctor friend will understand things that no one else will — after all, they have shared some life experiences unique from the rest of the world. A doctor friend will get it when you need to process your thoughts about Medicare, difficult patients, health insurance issues and so on. Doctor friends will get each other unlike anyone else can (including a non-medical spouse, I do confess).
Non-doctor Friends: Every doctor can benefit from friends who are NOT doctors, those who don’t necessarily know much about being a doctor, and don’t necessarily want to know. Maybe you share a love for a sports team, or you train for a triathalon together. Maybe your spouses are friends and by default you end up having dinner and realize that you have a lot in common. Non-doctor friends are refreshing to the doctor. They have interests and concerns unlike doctor friends. They will mix things up with interests and topics of conversation that remind the doctor that there is plenty going on outside their clinic or the hospital walls.
Advice to physicians: Finding a healthy balance in life is tough, but don’t give up the effort. Besides giving your family the time they need, try to schedule regular exercise, get back to an old hobby you might have let go. Carve out time for projects, and things that you enjoy.
I encourage you to consider this topic of friendships: Maybe it’s time to call an old friend and get reacquainted. Put that extra effort into getting to know a new friend. Sure, it takes some effort, but friendships add depth and value to life. They give you perspective, and they make you laugh.
Because it’s true: Doctors need friends, too.
Monica Swanson lives with her very active family on two acres in the country on Oahu, Hawaii. You can read more about Monica and her discussions on parenting, healthy marriage and recipes at her blog: www.monicaswanson.com.