It's Valentine's Day so what better time to talk about our interpersonal relationships - a very important part of our well-being. To this point, you may be aware of the longest study of human development, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This longitudinal study took place over 80 years looking into what makes for healthy and happy lives. The director of the study, Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Harvard professor says: "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health". But yet, although physician wellness has become a frontline topic in healthcare, the importance of our interpersonal relationships is not emphasized enough.
Picture this: You're heading out the door late for work after a heated argument with your spouse about _____ (fill in the blank). You're frustrated with them, and frustrated that you didn't resolve it, and now frustrated you're late for work and already have a very busy clinic. We can all relate to this scenario in some version. Now in this "imaginary" conflict, do you think what happened with your spouse will seep into your work that day?
In actual fact for some physicians, work isn't their biggest source of stress, and we all know how stressful the practice of medicine can be! In some cases, the cycle is such that we aren't sure where our biggest source of stress began - our personal relationships impact our work, and conversely, our work impacts our personal relationships. The upside to all of this is that strong interpersonal relationships outside of work can buffer some of the effects of the stress imposed on us by the practice of medicine. The opposite also holds true - enjoying our work can bolster our relationships outside of work.
Dr. Michael Myers, who remains a prominent voice in physician health and well-being, wrote the article The Well-Being of Physician Relationships which continues to be a valuable resource for us. In it he says, "If you have a tough day and need support, you can count on your partner to be there, to listen, to give perspective, and to provide support. And it is a blessing to reciprocate - having someone to love and to nurture is an integral part of being human." He also astutely says the culture of medicine needs to change, where "Physicians need to take better care of themselves and not feel guilty about working fewer hours per week, taking more vacation, pursuing other vocations, and protecting time for exercise and personal reflection."
Sara worked for the Alberta Physician Health Program a few years ago where the well-being of physician relationships was seen as priority given the population it served. Alberta is not unique and this should be a consistent priority across both provinces and other countries. As part of her position, she was involved in the creation of a universally available e-book dedicated to physician relationships. If you want to check it out, Section 1 specifically pertains to our discussion today.
After being together for over 24 years, Valentine's Day quite honestly is just another day for us. We learned a long time ago to appreciate one another each and every day, and that love is more important than almost anything in life, and not to be taken for granted.
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown