Self-Care for Doctors

As doctors, we have been trained to care for others, often at the great expense of ourselves, and our loved ones.

But sooner or later, this takes a toll on us, and there may come a time when we realise that we want or need to start taking greater care of ourselves. This moment may be an illness, an accident, a relationship breakdown, problems with patients, colleagues or staff, or burnout, exhaustion and depression. When we decide we would like to take more care of ourselves, where do we start?

One of the great ironies about being a doctor is that we know so much about the human body, but we don’t seem to have a great idea of how to care for our own body in a tender loving way. We have been trained to ignore it, override it, push it beyond human limits, go without food, water, sleep and a social life for extraordinary periods of time, so we seem a little stumped when it comes to simple self-care!

We are also far from experts at looking after our own emotional health and have in fact been trained to override, dismiss and bury our emotions, which can lead to a host of other problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, and ill mental health.

We have learned, through our experience, that we cannot truly care for others until we have learned to deeply care for ourselves. In developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and our own bodies, which is not something we were trained to know in medical school, we can develop a deeper understanding of what true health is, for ourselves and for our patients.

As a profession we strongly support evidence based medicine, but all too often we ignore the evidence of our own bodies. What if we began to see our bodies as a science experiment and studied how the way we live affects the way we feel? Our bodies are very willing teachers, but can only teach us if we are willing to listen. They will tell us exactly what is nurturing for us and what is not. They will show us how certain foods, lack of sleep, too much stress, and studying without a break affects us. And how the things we use to ‘relax’ can affect us too.

Through listening to our bodies, we can find ways to care for ourselves which nurture our bodies and beings and allow us to have a balance between our work life and our home life; ways to care for ourselves deeply, enabling us to live and work in a way that sustains and enriches us, and which we can then share with our patients, our families, and each other.

Read more

Latest Articles on Self-Care

Photo of Dr FIona Williams for article by Dr Fiona Williams on "Physician Heal Thyself"

Physician Heal Thyself: What Medical Training and the Body have taught me about Truth

While it would be nice to pretend otherwise, I did not embark on a career in medicine for altruistic reasons, to earn a good...
Photo of Easter full moon by Alan Johnston for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Easter in the time of Coronavirus

Easter in the time of Coronavirus: the only way ‘out’ is ‘in’

Easter in the time of Coronavirus will be a very different Easter for most of us. As the world descends into chaos around us...
photo of Dr John Budin for article by Dr John Budin on Mental Health Stigma Amongst Doctors

The antidote to mental health stigma amongst doctors: humanity

Mental health stigma amongst doctors I grew up watching Superman. Impressive guy … leaping tall buildings and all that. Just the kinda thing a young...
image of washing hands for article on Coronavirus by Dr Anne Malatt

Coronavirus: isolate physically, but don’t socially isolate 

We are in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, and being told to socially isolate if we have travelled overseas recently, been in contact...
Photo of red rose for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Why Bring Love into Medicine?

Why bring love into medicine?

The words love and medicine are rarely used in the same sentence. Not many people say they love taking their medicine. Not many doctors...
photo of pink rose for article on self-care by Dr Anne Malatt

Self-care: who is the self we are caring for?

Self-care is a common topic of conversation these days, and we may think we should be doing more of it, but what is it?...
Photo by Anne Malatt for article by Dr Anne Malatt on The Art of Repose

The Art of Repose

I have learned a lot about the art of repose lately. I learned it by breaking my big toe, which was a painful way...
photo of error message for article by Dr Anne Malatt on "When Doctors Make Mistakes"

When doctors make mistakes

Doctors make mistakes. No-one really likes to admit it or think about it or talk about it, but it happens all the time. We are...
Image of space for article by Dr Anne Malatt 'Are you trapped in time or surrendered to space?'

Are you trapped in time, or surrendered to space?

I used to live life ruled by time. I was not a very obedient subject, and was always running late, but it ruled me,...

Self-care when the doctor is the patient

It is well known that doctors generally make terrible patients. We self-diagnose, self-treat, delay getting help from an appropriately trained person who is not...
photo of pink rose by Anne Malatt for article on True care - it starts with us by Dr Anne Malatt

True care – it starts with us

We are often taught in life that it is selfish to care for ourselves, and that we need to put the needs of others...
Xray of my big toe for article on Doctors' Health by Dr Anne Malatt

Doctors’ Health – attending to our own

I recently attended the national Australian Medical Association (AMA) conference, where the importance of doctors’ health was a major focus. Our current President, Dr Tony...
Photo of sunset for article by Dr Anne Malatt on self-care for doctors as we age

How do we deal with the challenges of being a doctor as we age?

Doctors spend a long time training to be doctors. It takes at least 10-15 years to complete our training, which means we are usually...
Photo of trees by Alan Johnson for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Breathe your own breath

Breathe your own breath

Breathe your own breath … what on earth does that mean? We breathe, in and out, all the time … but how aware are we...
Photo of lorikeet sipping nectar by Alan Johnston for article by Dr Anne Malatt on self-care

Self-care – not just another doing, but a quality of being

There is a lot of talk about self-care these days and we tend to picture it as something that we would like to do...

Sleep – our daily medicine

Sleep is something that many of us struggle with, and this struggle can affect our whole day, or sleep can be part of our...

Food is medicine, so why do doctors know so little about food?

I am a doctor and everything I know about food that is worth knowing, I learnt somewhere other than medical school. We learn so...
photo of Dr Maxine Szramka

Do we really need our doctors to be resilient?

When we think of the word ‘resilience’ it conjures up certain meanings, i.e. that no matter what is thrown at you, you can ‘handle...
photo of Dr Anne Malatt by Clayton Lloyd for article on Being A Woman

The importance of having your own doctor – even when you are one

As doctors, we have a tendency to diagnose and treat ourselves when we become ill, which is understandable, but this can get us into...

What is the purpose of exercise?

We all lead very busy lives. We think there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things we need to...

Can we truly care for other people without caring for ourselves?

I used to think I was a clever person, but the way I lived my life when I was younger was not so clever,...

Coffee: Do I love it, or do I need it?

I used to love coffee. I would drink six double shots of it every day. This was instant coffee, back in the day, before...

Medical training is more stressful than the army

A recent systematic literature review of physician suicide confirmed that doctors now have the highest suicide rate of any profession and stated that: "It's very surprising...
Photo of pears by Marco Secchi for article by Dr Jane Barker on When things go pear-shaped – Self-care when the doctor is the patient

When things go pear shaped – Self-care when the doctor is the patient

Among the many urban myths about Medicine is the one that says doctors don’t get sick – we even believe it ourselves, we are...
Photo of ambulance for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Dealing with the tension of being on call

Dealing with the tension of being on call

I always found it really stressful to be on call for emergencies, until I learned a different way to deal with the tension of...
Photo of red wine and log fire for article by Dr Anne Malatt on 'What else can I do if I feel like I need a drink?'

What else can I do if I feel like I need a drink?

I used to drink a lot of alcohol, and when I say a lot, I mean a bottle or two of wine a day,...
Photo by Alan Johnston for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Taking time off

Taking time off

Many of us are counting down the days to Christmas and the end of the year, and the only thing that is keeping us...
Windmill at sunset for article by Dr Jane Barker on When you have made an error of judgement

When you have made an error of judgement

There is much room for human error in the practice of Medicine. The figures suggest that it is not uncommon, yet when you personally...
Photo of crescent moon by Alan Johnston for article on Sleep by Dr Anne Malatt

The secret to sleep – go to bed early – when you can!

Before you dismiss this article on sleep as irrelevant to or not possible for you, just give it a go. I used to be...
Sunlight on water and surfer-photo by Alan Johnston for article by Dr Anne Malatt on Taking a Break

Taking a break

We tend to think of taking a break as something that happens later…at morning tea, lunchtime, in the evenings, on the weekends, during our...