When I got back home from taking [my board exams], having all these [negative] feelings swirling through my head, I remember driving up and seeing my wife and baby sitting on the porch and suddenly being like, “Isn’t this what life is all about? Is it really about studying for an exam? Is it really about pushing yourself to get triple-boarded or do this or that within medicine? I mean, isn’t THIS what it’s about? Having a wife and a child, a family to call your own, aren’t these the things that are most important that we should value?” After that point, after seeing them on the porch and over the next couple weeks, things really started to change for me.
— Haney Mallemat, MD
Sometimes life just happens, despite our best-laid plans. Training to become an emergency physician follows a very defined timeline that begins intern year and relentlessly progresses all the way through board certification. Sometimes we even fool ourselves into believing that we can schedule our personal lives to follow the same timeline. Get married after medical school, have kid in fellowship, buy a house with that first attending job. But as Woody Allen famously said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Dr. Haney Mallemat, who is an Associate Professor of EM and Medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, certainly learned this the hard way, as he recounts in this month’s podcast.
There is nothing like an upheaval in your personal life to make you question your priorities. Life isn’t like football where we can stop the clock by running out of bounds or calling a timeout when things aren’t going according to plan. We can’t tell that baby to stay unborn so that we can finish our ICU rotations or a parent not to have cancer so that we can study for the boards. When our personal life starts shoving its way into our professional life, it can feel like we suddenly have too many balls in the air to juggle at once and leave us wondering which ones we absolutely have to catch and which ones we can let go.
Featured Podcast with Dr. Haney Mallemat
Listen to Dr. Haney Mallemat (@CriticalCareNow), famed lecturer and podcaster, talk about juggling family, work, and personal goals. Dr. Mallemat is board certified in not just Emergency Medicine, but also in Internal Medicine, Critical Care, and Echocardiography. He lectures nationally and internationally, runs the Keynotable presentation course, and has won multiple teaching awards. But despite his busy schedule, he still tries to find time for the things that are most important in life.
In our recent JGME-ALiEM Hot Topics in Medical Education Journal Club, Dr. Kristin Raj defined wellness as a sense of life satisfaction, feeling that you’re living in accordance with your deeply held values, and feeling fully engaged with life. So one of the keys to being well is figuring out what those deeply held values are in the first place. At the end of the day, what’s really important to you?
In his book First Things First, Dr. Stephen Covey shares the following story. One day a professor stood in front of his class with a large mason jar and a stack of fist-sized rocks. He carefully placed all of the rocks into the jar until they reached the top and then the professor asked the class, “Is this jar full?” The class said, “Yes.” The professor then reached under the table and produced a bucket of gravel. He poured the gravel into the jar and shook the jar so that the gravel fell into all the spaces between the rocks. He asked the class, “Now is the jar full?” The class had caught on by now and one student piped up and said, “Probably not.” Next, the professor pulled out a bucket of sand from under the table and poured the sand into the jar, filling all the spaces between the gravel. He asked, “Now is the jar full?” The class responded in unison, “No!” Finally the professor pulled out a pitcher of water and poured the water into the mason jar. The professor then looked at the class and asked, “What was the point of this illustration?” One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always squeeze more stuff in.” “No,” the professor responded, “That’s not the point. The point is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”
What are the big rocks in YOUR life?
Teaching your kid to spell her name? Exploring a new country with friends? Searching for a life partner or bonding with the one you have? Learning to resuscitate a critically ill patient? Championing a cause? Take some time to think about the things that are truly important in your life and make the time for them. Write them down and put the list on your refrigerator. Schedule them in your calendar next to your shifts. If you remember to put the big rocks in first, you’ll be well on your way toward a more fulfilled future.
Take the next step
If you’re an EM resident, join us on May 15th, 2017 at the 16th annual Essentials of Emergency Medicine course. Unite with residents from all throughout North America who are coming together for the first-ever Resident Wellness Consensus Summit (RWCS), and be a part of innovating real-world solutions to physician wellness issues just like this one. The RWCS is a joint partnership between Essentials of EM, Emergency Medicine Residents’ Association (EMRA), and ALiEM. EMRA members register at EMRA’s Hippo Education page for a greatly discounted rate of $249 (from $899), which includes the entire Essentials of EM 2017 Live Experience.