Discovering balance during residency

Residents Corner By Scott Sexton, PharmD

It was last summer, and I was a new graduate of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy. I had just matched with the residency program of my dreams and was set to move halfway across the country. After saying goodbye to friends and family, I eagerly set off for North Carolina in an overpacked car. I had no clue exactly what this new adventure would bring, but I knew the next step would involve a great deal of studying for exams.

Immediately upon arrival, I left my apartment only for quick stops to the grocery store. In just a couple of days, the sting of burnout from studying set in. I would gently remind myself that this busy phase was temporary and that there would be time down the road to enjoy my new city and make friends. I had no idea that this would become a recurring thought process.

Significant changes required

After becoming licensed, I began my residency. I discovered a plethora of opportunities to become a leader in my organization. As the new face at my site, I wanted to make an immediate impact and impress as many of my peers as I could. I quickly found my diet spiraling out of control. I was sleeping considerably less than I was accustomed to. I can count on one hand how many times I went to the gym during this period. Again, I found myself thinking, “I won’t be as busy next month.”

By October, I reached a level of burnout I had never experienced before. After 3 months of thinking each month would get easier, I finally dreaded going into work each day. This was a brand-new feeling for me, as I had always loved taking care of patients in the pharmacy. It was then that I discovered nobody is immune to burnout. I will always remember October 2017 as one of the most challenging months of my professional life, but also as one of the biggest opportunities for growth.

Moving forward, I made significant changes in my life. I reflected on the things that were going well and those that didn’t feel quite right. What I noticed was that the emphasis of my daily activities was placed on work, and my personal life had taken the backseat. I decided to make small changes and see if that would affect the care I was able to deliver to patients. First, I made a goal to be in bed before midnight every night. This may seem trivial, but shortly after this change, I began to feel more energized and alert. The pharmacy teams I worked with made fewer comments about how tired I looked at work.

Next, I decided it was finally time to get in shape. As a former athlete, I was unhappy with the changes that occurred to my diet and exercise routines. Aware of my busy and unpredictable schedule, I subscribed to an at-home workout program. This provided me a strict schedule to follow to hold myself accountable. Additionally, I began cooking much more frequently. When I wasn’t cooking, I was choosing the healthiest option on whichever menu I was perusing. By incorporating these changes, I felt significantly better with every passing day. The final change I made was adding time to my calendar for social activities. Spending time with others in an environment outside of work has truly made an impact on my happiness.

Finding balance

While adding these daily activities to my schedule certainly takes up time, I finally feel like I have discovered the work–life balance that I have heard my peers talk about. By practicing better self-care, I have created an environment where I am living a happier life than I can ever remember. I am living my dream serving patients as a pharmacist without sacrificing my productivity by incorporating balance.

It appears that the old saying is true: “You cannot take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.” Remember to always be cognizant of your personal well-being.