Thursday, November 30, 2017

Burnout: There is No Fix

I like the contrast between how resigned Simon
is to this situation, and how resigned Christ is.
I couldn't go to the recent CMA conference, but several friends told me it was great. It focused heavily on burnout, as have the past five or so years. One of my parishioners, a family med resident who attended, reported that the talks were very holy and quoted lots of saints, but finally she didn't feel like there was a real "fix" to burnout.

My experience of the last two CMA conferences I've attended have been similar. Lots of discussion of personal holiness and the sacraments. Lots of discussion of holistic medicine and the importance of relationships and integrity in practice. Lots of discussion of hope, courage, and mercy for times of desolation. Not a lot of easy fixes. And I think that reflects the truth.

There is no easy fix for burnout. There's rest, hobbies, leisure, exercise, healthy eating, meditation, good marriages and friendships, and patience through desolation. None of those are easy. You have to force yourself to make time to rest (and then actually use that time to rest), you have to force yourself to exercise, you have to force yourself to develop relationships, you have to force yourself to pray. There is a lot of violence in pursuing the virtuous life. And, if you believe Augustine (and I do), we never get to the easy part of habitual virtue by ourselves. God's grace makes a way for us to become saints.

There's a small amount of relief whenever you acknowledge an unpleasant truth, be it some personal imperfection or some fact you can't control about the outside world. There is no "fix" for burnout, just the continued pursuit of a virtuous life and patience through desolation.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quaeritur: Is there an obligation for Catholic medical students to become OB/GYNs?

I was recently asked:
If most OB/GYNs were Catholic already, I would not consider the specialty. I certainly enjoyed my OB rotation, but I also enjoyed other specialiteis just as much. Therefore, why not do a specialty that would allow me to spend more time with my my wife and children? Do you think that a Catholic OB/GYN could help women, marriages, and families in a significantly different way than a standard OB/GYN? Is a Catholic OB/GYN that big of a deal and worth all the extra time, effort, and controversy? Do you think by being a Catholic OB/GYN, I could lead more souls to Heaven? Are these questions too spiritual? Should I be focused more on the medicine, my interest in various specialties, and traditional decision making for most medical students?
"The Dedication" by Edmund Blair Leighton
Img credit: Micione, Wikimedia Commons
These are excellent questions. These are the questions you will be glad you asked yourself when residency makes life tough. I do think that a Catholic OB/GYN is a much better doctor for women and for our country than a standard (contraception-prescribing, napro-not-recommending) OB/GYN. I love to persuade people to become strong, Catholic OB/GYNs. But I would not push you that direction.

Your vocation is the way God made for you to become a saint. Your vocation is that of a husband and father, and this will always come before medicine. Your first responsibility is to the salvation of your soul, followed closely by your wife's and your children's. If you save a hundred souls by being a Catholic OB/GYN but aren't available to your family, what good is that?

Most OB/GYNs aren't Catholic, pro-life, or pro-NFP. It is generous for any Catholic medical student to consider the need for more Catholic OB/GYNs, just like it's generous that young men consider the priesthood even if they end up called to marriage. God is so grateful for your generosity. But the existence of a need does not mean you have to meet it. Your family's needs come first. OB/GYN residency is 75 hours a week, on average, and sometimes you're at work for twelve or twenty days in a row.

This calls for careful discernment and a well-trained spiritual director can help open the doors to God's light.