How to Find Motivation During Residency When You’re Burning Out

April 17, 2019
A career in medicine requires tremendous dedication. From the number of hours we spend training at the hospital to the neverending board exams, it’s a path that is by no means easy. We hold ourselves to such high standards in our careers that it’s often a challenge to equally apply those standards to our personal growth and development. But by doing so, you can find the motivation you need when residency runs you down. On a day that you feel weak and defeated at work, this motivation can allow you to be strong and confident at home and vice versa.

I’m guilty of having days when I get into my car, turn out of the hospital parking lot, and think to myself, “If I get home and never come back, it would be okay.” Nonetheless, each morning my alarm goes off at 6:00 AM, I hop out of bed and scramble out the door. Despite the long days, labs in my inbox, unwritten notes from clinic, and phone calls that need to be made, the motivation to show up each day remains despite the feeling of being run down.

I maintain my sanity in residency with my commitment to not lose touch with the person I am outside of work. Twelve hours a day, five to six days a week, I play the role of “Dr. Platt.” Dr. Platt is a caring family physician who strives to do best for her patients, soaks up as much learning as possible, and sometimes is burnt out and overworked, yet keeps the big picture in mind and continues to show up for her clinical duties with a positive attitude and willingness to help. Then, when my shift ends or my last clinic patient is seen for the day, I take off my white coat and try to just be “Sarah.” Sarah who never turns down an adventure, would always rather be outside, and who loves traveling, taking walks with her husband, catching up with friends, running, cooking, and being with family.

If you’re feeling run down by residency and need to find your motivation, answer the following questions:

1. Who are “you”?

What makes you you? Perhaps you feed off of other peoples’ energy and you need more social time to feel like yourself. Or, maybe a quiet night on the couch resets your frame of mind. Make a list of the qualities that define who you are, and figure out ways to connect with those parts of yourself.

2. What do you love?

When is the last time you did it? If you love being outdoors, set aside time on your calendar for a weekly hike. Passionate about knitting? Head to the yarn store and pick up supplies for that project you’ve had in the back of your mind. You don’t have to complete it right away, but set aside some dedicated time when you can decompress and work on something solely for yourself.

3. Who do you love?

When is the last time you saw or called them? Make a conscious effort to catch up with the people who are most important to you on your commutes to and from work. Especially if you’re in a big city and your commute is long, this is a great way to not get bogged down by traffic, watching your personal time tick away.

If all else fails and you don’t have answers to these questions, you may just qualify as an overworked and sleep-deprived resident, in which case it’s always safe to take a nap and then try again. But if you pinpoint what motivates you and remember to take some time for yourself when you’re feeling burnt out, you’ll be able to get out of bed each morning, head to work, and give your patients the care they need.

By Sarah Platt, MD

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