He drew his bow and shot, and I found love. Cupid is pretty clever for a naked, winged child. I didn't know I needed peer support, but Cupid did. He brought a sweet EP into my life, and taught me how much docs need other docs.
I was blind to the importance of having a colleague in my corner before I started dating another doctor. Single-coverage night shift isolated me from other EPs. Aside from a few hours of overlap at the start of my shift and at signout at 7 a.m., I worked without anyone to bounce things off of or anyone who's been in my shoes to share understanding. After difficult cases, I would come home and play them over and over in my head, wondering if I'd done the right thing.
All kinds of leaders face loneliness, and in hindsight that's what I was experiencing. Not having a safe sounding board made difficulties feel more difficult and challenges feel more challenging. The subtle slights, small tensions, and hostilities that unfortunately can happen during a shift were adding up to significant mental strain. Talking about feelings and frustrations keeps stress from building up and eating away at my insides. Troubles stew when no one is around to listen to me vent.
I was never conscious of how much I needed a safe person to talk to until I found my EP-boyfriend Matt. As leaders, we fear that sharing our inner feelings may make us look weak or less competent. Many times we don't feel comfortable saying things to nurses or other non-physician team members. Many times we're afraid to show vulnerability to those who aren't in our shoes. Will they judge us if we express doubt about our clinical decisions? Who do we confide in when a procedure doesn't go well? Who do we turn to after a rough shift?
Dating another EP has fulfilled the need for peer support that I never knew I had. Suddenly I had a confidante in my corner who could completely grasp my vantage point. The flood gates opened, and emotions and reactions that I had been internalizing came spewing out. One night I was late for a date we had planned after my 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift. It was well past midnight when I finally called him as I drove home. I vented a maelstrom of frustrations from the shift I'd just finished. I vented my whole 20-minute drive home; I vented walking up my front stairs; I vented as I opened the door and found him in my foyer. Then I vented for another 15 minutes as we had a drink until I got everything off my chest. He listened, which is exactly what I needed.
He not only listened but he also effortlessly “got it.” I liken it to the ease with which divorced parents relate to other divorced parents. A parent doesn't have to explain to another parent the feelings that go with raising kids. Unlike the non-parent I once dated who compared his cat to a child, other dads just get it. Similarly, I've found more ease and comfort when it comes to talking about work in my relationship with another EP than in any other relationship.
I tried dating an administrator, and it was enlightening in the way traveling to another country and learning a different culture is enlightening. I tried dating a nurse, and the full understanding was lacking even though there was mutual respect for our complimentary patient care roles and enough similarities between our jobs for partial understanding. In parenthood, in medicine, and in life in general, you cannot fully appreciate another's situation until you've been through it.
The unconditional support of another EP has benefited me in many ways. He understands when I stay late, when I come home and want a drink, why I work holidays and weekends, and the effects of night shift. He understands the ever-increasing demands of this job and what it really means to say “my night was crazy” or “I saw 30 patients.” We teach each other through our clinical conversations. I told him about REBOA; he gave me his slick procedural tips. We encourage each other.
Sometimes I need to know if I dealt with people the right way or made the right choices. “You did the right thing” from another MD is healing. We help each other cope with day-to-day stresses by listening to each other when we're exasperated. We keep each other from feeling alone by realizing that we share the same frustrations and fears. We give each other the gift of perspective. When I get overburdened with irksome details and forget the big picture, Matt helps me remember our work's meaning and purpose.
Experiencing the benefits of another EP's encouragement in my life has opened my eyes to how much all physicians need peer support in theirs. We all carry a lot of burden on our shoulders and should not be carrying it alone. Sometimes the ones taking care of everyone else need someone to take care of them. Unfortunately, there are not enough physician mental health resources to catch every one of us who falls, so a culture of peer support must be the starting point to care for our struggling colleagues.
We need to stick together, help our peers through the day-to-day difficulties, and remind each other that what we do matters. We need to be the ones to provide each other with understanding when we lose our temper or make an error because often no one else is tolerant of our mistakes. When thankful appreciation is uncommon in our EDs, we must give it to each other. Take a minute to ask how your colleague is doing with sincerity. If they say “fine” but act otherwise, ask “How are you really doing?” Having another physician ask me about my day and really mean it has made all the difference. Cupid knows what he's doing!