A nocturnist mama

People ask me as soon as I tell them that I’m a nocturnist physician, “So when do you sleep?” And that became the reason behind writing this blog post. Being a working woman is hard but being a working physician is the type of job that even not every woman physician will sign up for. There is mental and emotional work. There is a certain financial responsibility that comes with it and there definitely is a huge risk of burn out with the lifestyle of a woman physician.

Add to this the fact that many women physicians, just like other women, would like to be married and have kids. Many of us would also like to stay married and enjoy our kids’ childhood. Many of us would like to enjoy a social life and have friends.

And many of us are married. With kids. With in-laws. With our own families. With our own social circles. With a mortgage. With a spouse. With a penchant for pretty clothes and shoes. With a desire to explore our professional field as much as possible. And pretty much everything that comes with being a woman who’s married with kids.

Except……. our life is just as different from the life of a typical woman as it can be. The demands of our professional and personal life on us are staggering sometimes. The amount of support that we get from the people around us can range from amazing to minimal. Also, this support is not available in the same amounts at all times.

So it isn’t weird that the people I relate to the most and associate with the most are not other women but actually other physicians. Men physicians and women physicians. And even within this subgroup of people, I associate more with nocturnist physicians.

Nocturnists have an interesting lifestyle even if not typical. We work at night and sleep during the day. Most programs that hire nocturnists have a certain flexibility for these physicians. This is important to prevent burn out and shorter than projected careers.

Why do I think my tips of preventing burn out will help other nocturnists? Because I have three vantage points.

1. I’m a woman who has her family on a largely home-based organic diet so a lot of our cooking and eating is at home. My husband isn’t much of a cook so the kitchen takes a good amount of my time.

2. I have a child with autism whom I homeschool.

3. I have a toddler whom we have to watch closely for any signs of atypical development.

And then of course I’m a nocturnist.

So how do I propose that mothers make nocturnist hospitalist medicine a career and love it while they do it? Also, how do I propose that physicians choose these night shifts and be happy?

To preface my forthcoming discussion, I’m very happy with my decision to work nights. (As you might have guessed by now). A lot of it is due to my workplace and my work companions.

Below are my hacks and legitimate ways to make it easy for women and overall physicians to work nights.

1. Ask for help: yes! Anytime you need help, ask for it. This is the biggest way to decrease burn out and loneliness. Ask for help and be honest about why you need it. People are nicer than we give them credit for. Some of my best friends today are people I was scared of actually in social situations and then had to ask them for help. Most of my good friends are from my workplace. That says a lot about the people I work with and the atmosphere we promote.

2. Don’t hesitate to hire excellent home help: I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t try to be Wonder Woman or Superman. We are not super heroes. Shamelessly hire help. When I talk to some working women they make it seem like they can do it all. No one can do it all. By assuming that you can do it all you are predisposing yourself to burn out and actually resentment in the long run. Look for a nanny or a housekeeper or a driver whom you can trust and who gets what you do for a living. Share your parenting vision with them. Make them a partner on your parenting journey. Make them comfortable with your spouse. Share responsibilities of your kids with them. Treat them like a family member. Ask them how they think your home system could be better. This is how you establish a human connection and open an ongoing dialogue about how things could be better. Trust me, people like employers who are nice. Money isn’t everyone’s priority so be nice to hired help and they’ll give you their loyalty and commitment. Institute the culture of loyalty with them.

3. Hire more help: with our job we can’t sometimes rely on one person who helps us. Don’t be hesitant to hire more than one person to help.

4. Don’t consider your spouse to be that help: Our spouses have jobs of their own usually. If not and they feel up to it then I don’t think we’d even need so much help but honestly, I don’t think I could unleash my kids on my husband for more than a week without him going nuts. It’s not fair. Hire help because that’s what our money is for. After paying our mortgage, school loans, car payment and grocery bills, hired help is the most important thing to spend on in order to enjoy our job. Knowing that someone is taking care of your kids is an amazing feeling. Knowing that you can be with your patients for as long as they need you is very relaxing.

5. Take trips regularly: even if to the park. Plan it, make it special. Have a little picnic every now and then in the backyard. Don’t believe me? Ask all the wellness people out there! Getting fresh air on our terms is the number one thing to do to stay well. Don’t spend a lot of money on trips. Use budget websites. Make the most trips on a small budget. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be family and outdoor time. We took a very relaxing trip to Vermont when I was pregnant with my second. Gave me enough fuel to plow through the rest of my pregnancy. Trips are amazing. Talk to people about their recent trips. But……. when all is said and done, there’s a picnic waiting to happen in your backyard all along. Don’t discount it.

6. Talk to people at work if you feel overwhelmed: this is major and important. Don’t keep it bottled up. Usually it’s nothing but talking it out helps build trust and camaraderie. It also validates your feelings of loneliness in a work situation. It also makes you feel rejuvenated and like you have friends who you can fall back on.

7. Take time out with spouse or significant other. None of us can deny the significance of this. When we were residents, our non physician spouses thought good days were gonna start after residency. But then they’re flummoxed at attending work being even more demanding of our time and consuming of our mind. Our spouses are a part of this. Make them a part of this by sharing your work life. Tell them of the kind of life-threatening diagnoses that you have to deal with. How you are sometimes not able to compartmentalize work and home. How sometimes it’s hard to switch off work. Our work isn’t the kind where a switch is available always. Pay for a sitter to get a date night. You’ll thank me the next day for suggesting this. Your significant other could be anyone, may even be your parents for that night. Make that time for them and your own self and give yourself this luxury.

8. Make friends outside of work too. It can get repetitive if you have work friends only and all you talk about is work, people at work, policies at work and then talk about the same things when you see the same folks at work. Make friends with people who do something different.

9. Cut down the chatter: anyone has an opinion of the way you live life? Ignore it if it’s not gonna uplift you or help improve your life. It’s not worth your time or mind. Useless chatter is the most detrimental thing to the quality of our lives. Cutting it down is the first and best step towards wellness.

10. Lastly, value your work. If you don’t value your work, you don’t value yourself. Solicit feedback. People who solicit feedback grow exponentially faster than people who don’t think feedback will help. Feedback adds more value to our work.

I hope these tips help. I used them when I felt threatened by a burn out coming on. And these tips have never failed me.

I sleep. About the same as you. Just usually during the day. But sometimes I wake up early and make something special in the kitchen for my family. That adds to the value of my life. I sit down with my kiddo on my days off and homeschool her. That adds value to my life. The days I’m working I set aside two hours anyway to spend with my kids. That adds value to my life. Only we can add value to our life. No one else can do it for us. Only we can take charge of our own wellness.

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