COVID19: 5 Tips for Sanity for Crazy-Busy Physicians Who Are Now Crazy-Bored

By: Rick Thompson MD
Cardiothoracic Surgeon
Co-Founder of MedLaunch Solutions

We are all used to running at 100mph through our days and not thinking about too much except how many more patients or procedures we have for that day.  Insert pandemic. Instantly, physicians are pulling their hair out, driving their spouses and children crazy and home by mid-afternoon each day, when they are used to working until 7 or 8PM.  The COVID pandemic has almost universally reduced specialty physician work hours and disrupted our very comfortable and usual routine. Whether it is barely being able to inhale while wearing an N95 in our office/hospital or dealing with the “fun” of telehealth, our sanity and professionalism are being challenged daily.

Add in the stress of making less money, trying to figure out what is elective and what isn’t, and the very real possibility of infecting our own family and it is surprising we aren’t all in straight jackets in a room with padded walls.

Here are 5 things I’ve either done or seen colleagues do to keep busy and keep our collective minds sharp as we sit in waiting for our lives to normalize.

  1. Work on Strategic Practice Planning.

Our daily routine is usually so packed with being productive and generating revenue for the practice that we never take the time to really critically look at our practices. This includes both personal practice issues as well as group practice dynamics.  Time spent planning strategies for practice growth now will pay dividends for many years to come.  Sit down with your Practice Manager and critically examine the referral patterns you had before the pandemic, looking for opportunities for growth. Most specialty physicians rely on physician to physician referrals to survive. Therefore, looking for opportunities to cultivate lasting relationships with referring physicians is time well spent.  Let your referring doctors know you are thinking about them during this crazy time with a simple old-fashioned thank you card -handwritten of course – telling them how much you appreciate their business and hope they are keeping safe. Along with that goes taking a deep look at your social media and web presence.  Though most of your referrals may come from other doctors, the first place a prospective patient goes after getting the referral is online to look at your footprint.  Money spent on website development and social media presence is returned to you 100-fold in new patient revenue.

Now that you have quelled your anxiety and taken care of your business as much as you can, it’s time to try some new things or re-engage in things you used to be really diligent at doing.

  1. Exercise. 

If exercise was not part of your pre-pandemic routine, now is the time to make it a part of your ongoing routine.  Too many of us don’t practice what we preach – a healthy diet and regular exercise. Usually we just give the excuse, “I’m just too busy right now” and we let ourselves off the hook.  However, since pandemic exercise is a little different, as your gym is probably closed and your trainer is in quarantine, you will need to do this on your own.   There are always opportunities to run, but if you aren’t a runner (like me), then take some long, vigorous walks or use that elliptical trainer you bought 7 years ago that is in the corner with stuff hanging from it.  Most of us have some dumbbells laying around. Use them.  There are some great apps and web-based resources for workouts with minimal to no equipment. Peloton’s app is $12.99/month and does not require their bike or treadmill. Franchise gym’s like OrangeTheory are currently offering free no-equipment daily workouts on their website. There are endless home workout ideas online and lots of trainers that are doing virtual sessions and/or providing clients with home workouts. Here are few good online resources:

No-Equipment Exercises Top Trainers Swear By
7 Best At-Home Workout Routines
50 Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

  1. Read a book. (Yes, cover to cover for once!)

Many of us have a book we have been talking about reading for the last 2-3 years. We’ve been waiting for that week-long beach vacation to get to it.  Most of us are not at the beach currently (I hate those of you that practice near the beach), however now is the time to read that novel, self-help book, biography or history book that you have been salivating over.  For me, that book was “Founding Brothers” by Joseph Ellis. This amazingly-easy read follows the lives and tales of six of the most colorful characters from the American Revolution.  It explores the interactions amongst this group of incredibly gifted, but tragically flawed set of Founding Fathers.  If you don’t have your book already picked out, I recommend checking out these resources for what books are trending right now.

New York Times Best Seller List

  1. Try something completely new and out of your comfort zone.

Let’s face it, we all have things that we are good at and things that we are definitely not good at, but that we’d like to try.  Now is the time to step outside your comfort zone and learn something new. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn another language. Or knit. Or cook. For me, that “something” out of my comfort zone was the guitar.  My teenage son is an amazing guitar player. I listen to him play with a mix of awe and jealousy.  Playing the guitar comes naturally to him. Music talent was not part of the checklist of talents I was given at birth.  I quite literally was told by my trumpet instructor in the 3rdgrade to “not waste my time” and “you are probably better served playing football or soccer.”  I took his advice, but have always wanted another shot – not at the trumpet of course – but at the much cooler guitar.  Whether you have always wanted to learn a new language, play an instrument, or take up spelunking – take the plunge and step outside of your comfort zone.  You won’t regret it!

  1. Take a course.

A website called MasterClass has become quite the rage.  Experts in all facets of life and are teaching classes in everything from tennis (Serena Williams) to cooking (Wolfgang Puck) and sharing the secrets that make them so good at what they do.  Though I haven’t tried MasterClass yet, I do enjoy The Great Courses, a fantastic library of college professors and their recorded classes.  I took a class in Ancient Philosophy and loved it.  I had missed taking that class in college and had always wished I had. The professor was stimulating and the course was well worth the investment of time and money.  If you don’t want to pay anything for your class, check out the incredible online resources for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are available through a number of providers including MOOC LIST, Coursera, and edX.   If you want a quicker version of learning something new, try a TED talk on something that looks interesting.  TED talks are always under 18 minutes and there are 1000s available.

Well, there you have it…your personal “Physician Guide to Staying Sane During the Pandemic”.  As a fellow practicing cardiac surgeon, I’m right there in the trenches with you every day and going through the same stresses of uncertainty that you all are.  Even if you don’t do all five of these, try just one. Who knows – you might start to enjoy the extra downtime! (Who are we kidding?? I’m counting the minutes until we start going back at it at 100mph again. That’s just who we all are!).

Good luck and stay safe!