As a soon-to-be fourth-year medical student, I asked residents how to preserve a sense of work-life balance. I was surprised by how unanimous their answer was: Maintain your hobbies. Not until I was in the midst of my intern year of residency did I become aware of just how easy it can be to fall into a cycle of sleep-work-repeat.
Each transition from premedical student to medical student to attending physician is accompanied by added responsibilities — and often personal commitments — that stand in the way of hobbies for doctors. One Obstetrics & Gynecology study of job satisfaction among OB-GYN physician-mothers found that 60% were unsatisfied with the amount of time they had available to spend with their children, 70% with the amount of time they had to spend with their partner and 75% with the time available for engaging in personal hobbies.
That said, many physicians have found ways to maintain their side passions. Neurology Today dedicates an entire feature, Off the Clock, to highlighting neurologists’ hobbies and how they find time for them, from making sweets and dancing to blowing glass and teaching spin classes. These neurologists tie their hobbies back not only to their clinical practice but also to their overall well-being as doctors. On using martial arts and tango as ways of cultivating resilience on the job, Dr. Meriem K. Bensalem-Owen told Neurology Today, “So you have to do something for yourself, to clear your mind of your sad stories, your complex patients, your failures.” In fact, one letter published in Academic Medicine argued that hobbies should be used as a benchmark to gauge self-care and wellness in medical students.
After all, our passions outside of work deliver a crucial reminder: We are humans first and physicians second. But your hobbies don’t have to be at odds with your medical career. Some could actually serve as a stress-free way to tune up skills that you use in the workplace. Here are four hobbies for doctors that can boost your quality of life both inside and outside of the hospital.
The benefits of mindfulness are documented enough that hospitals have introduced yoga and meditation for patients as a way to provide adjuvant care. But these benefits aren’t limited to your patient population.
You face constant stressors in and out of the hospital: phone calls, clinical changes and endless documentation. Anxiety and stress can cloud your clinical judgment. Routine meditation can promote psychological balance by easing anxiety and depression; it can also improve memory and serve as a “reboot” for the mind. The practice of meditation strengthens the neural connections that promote a positive outlook and connectivity. And mindfulness doesn’t have to mean a big commitment away from your work, as Medical News Today reports. These habits can be built into your day-to-day routines.
You spend a lot of time in the hospital on the computer, writing notes about your patients’ clinical status, discharge summaries and admission notes. The last thing you may want to do when you leave the hospital is to write more. But don’t overlook the benefits of extracurricular writing.
This kind of writing could include anything from journaling to journalism. Nonfiction journal articles and blog posts require data collection, research, analysis and attention to detail, all of which are skills you use when you evaluate patients.
Narrative medicine, a popular form of creative nonfiction, is also a path to stress relief. Common themes are the challenging and emotional personal experiences and interactions with patients in the workplace. As you write about these experiences, you process events and gain clarity in a way that is more productive than a “vent session.” You demonstrate empathy for yourself and for the patients or other individuals involved.
Of course, your writing can also benefit your career more directly; consider exploring professional options such as journal articles, textbooks and practice materials.
Regardless of what you write, you strengthen your written communication skills with each piece.
Playing an instrument
From age 3 to 18, I spent multiple hours each week at the keyboard in my childhood home, preparing for my music lesson. I practiced because I was terrified of my instructor. When I asked my parents why I had to continue my lessons, they said, “It’ll make you smarter” and “You need to be well-rounded to get into college.”
Research suggests that they may have been on to something. One study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that music in school curricula enhanced students’ cognitive abilities, while another published in PLoS One found that musical practice may mitigate the cognitive effects of aging.
The benefits don’t end there. If you enjoy it more than I did, routine music-making can improve your mood and ease the burden of your anxiety. It could even hone your hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills, translating directly to your procedural capabilities in the hospital.
Clinicians are lifelong learners, which makes reading one of the most natural hobbies for doctors. Nonmedical reading material can be beneficial for your work, too. When you read books and articles outside your usual sphere, you sharpen your comprehension skills, improve your vocabulary and broaden your knowledge base.
Moreover, when you read about the experiences of others, you are introduced to new perspectives and motivations. This bolsters your capacity for empathy, which can help you navigate tough conversations with patients and their families. Strong empathy and communication skills will also serve you well as you collaborate with other members of your medical team.
Whether you have old hobbies to dust off or you’re interested in taking up something new, where do you start? First, be realistic: Choose one hobby to focus on each week for a reasonable amount of time. But also prioritize yourself. Isolate one to two blocks of time each week during which you can explore your new hobbies or decompress. The goal is to keep your hobbies enjoyable, not just another task on your endless to-do list.
Have fun! You deserve it.