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How to Come Back From a Bad Day

Posted on: January 09, 2020

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Gail Clifford, MD

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We’ve all had them. Phone calls interrupt you every time you try to place an order. You don’t have time to review a patient’s chart without being called away for an emergency. You spill coffee on your clothes. Something. Anything. Everything. Your least favorite nurse and ER doctor are on duty with you. You know it’s going to be a lousy day.

So, how do you pull yourself out of it?

Emotional intelligence is not only about understanding how your responses affect other people, it’s also about how your own responses affect you.

Recognizing the problem is the beginning of the solution. Focus on the solutions and don’t dwell on the problem; especially if it’s something you can’t fix. The doctor you don’t like is going to be there this shift. Save yourself the pain and just accept it. So how can you prepare yourself? Get your discharges out early, clear the beds you know he’s going to fill and offload everything and anything you can as early as possible. Then, when you’re interrupted with that first admission, know that you’re still the best person to be taking care of that patient at that moment; even if you discharge them from the ER.

Take care of yourself; you have to eat good food regularly. If you haven’t gotten in the habit of putting a protein bar, a bag of grapes, or nuts in your pocket, consider it. Your brain needs complex carbohydrates to get that slow burn glucose your brain craves. Make sure you’re exercising every day and getting enough sleep. Meditate or pray. Short prayers outside a patient’s room have centered me. I have used a simple one such as, “Let me be the doctor this patient needs at this time.”

Know when to say “no.” It’s one of the most powerful words in the English language. Use it wisely. Do everything that your patients need you to do to heal quickly and safely. Don’t do extraneous things that are of no value to your future goals.

Notice the tide. Ebb and flow through the day is normal. We’re super busy when we start our day - collecting data, accepting new patients, rounding, speaking with consultants. If you’re really lucky, you’ve got a reasonable EMR and you can get your notes done as you go. Then there’s a lull as you wait for the OR cases to start coming out, the ER admissions to start, and the other consultations to come. Embrace both; being busy gets the bills paid and the lull gets your tank refilled.

Forgive yourself for not being perfect. If there’s something you need to learn, learn it. If there’s something you need to fix, fix it. But if something happens that you had no control over, forgive it. Learn from it. 

Always remember to touch base with your friends and colleagues. No matter how bad a day is, someone else you know has been there. If you need help, ask for it. Together, we’ll get through this.

Gail Clifford, MD
About Gail Clifford, MD

Gail Clifford, MD, a physician for more than 25 years, has traveled to five continents and all 50 United States. An avid adventurer, she works hard and plays hard. She enjoys travel that immerse her in local culture, just like locum tenens work.

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