The young doctor should look about early for an avocation, a pastime, that will take him away from patients, pills, and potions.William Osler
Medicine isn’t always the most welcoming place for creativity. In a world of guidelines and protocols, it can be all too easy get swept up in the science and lose sight of the art. We can feel the need to conform, and to squash ourselves into a narrow idea of what we think the modern healthcare professional should be. The really interesting thing is, with patients being ever more complex- medically and socially- creativity and hobbies have a bigger and bigger role to play in both looking after our patients, and ourselves.
I am a resident doctor by day, an artist by night, and a vegetable gardener on my days off. Since my early years of medical school, I’ve actively been setting aside time to engage in these creative pursuits. These are my top reasons why doctors should actively prioritise their creative side in a medical career:
Research says it might make you a better doctor
There’s actually an entire of body of work that suggests engaging with art makes medical students more empathetic, more open minded, and generally improves bedside manner. Some medical school curriculums are trying to squeeze more of the arts in due to these benefits. Art that actually helps medicine? What’s not to love! Read more at The Conversation.
It gives you space to fail
Medicine is not an area that encourages failure, but humans are far from perfect. Hobbies can be the perfect space to do something because you love it, regardless of your skill in the area. I grow vegetables because I love eating them and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t really matter. I need an activity where the outcome isn’t someone’s well-being, or even someone’s happiness with art they’re commissioning. If my veggies grow, I have a delicious tomato to eat. If they all get eaten by the birds, well, eh. Not the end of the world.
It can connect you with a community of like-minded humans
I never quite felt like I ‘fit’ in medicine. My shoes are too colourful, my lipstick too bright, my family tree too devoid of medicos. By sharing my art (and even my vegetables!) on Instagram, I’ve connected with a community of health professionals who are also breaking the mould of what a doctor ‘should’ be. Whatever your passion, you can probably connect with someone else who loves it just as much as you do! And honestly, my patients love my Happy Friday Shoes.
You can actually make something- something not on a screen!
Our world is becoming ever more digital. We spend days writing notes on screens, charting and writing scripts on screens and then we come home to study or relax… with screens. There’s something incredibly freeing about picking up a pencil and paper and making art. Or going outside and feeling the soil under your toes, or wandering into the kitchen and making something. There’s nothing quite like being able to touch our creations (I’m personally a pretty big fan of eating them too, but that’s me).
You are more than ‘just a doctor’
There will be absolutely awful days, and weeks (maybe months… fingers crossed not years) in our professional lives. We don’t always have control over the circumstances that makes those times tough. Having something to retreat into when our professional lives are hard can be a lifesaver. And sometimes we need a reminder that we’re not ‘just’ a doctor. We’re well rounded, fully fledged humans who are worthwhile regardless of how work is going.
You can’t pour from an empty cup
Self-explanatory, right? We ask our patients to look after their mental and physical health by keeping active, eating well and finding joy in what they can. You can’t help others if you’re not doing at least a bit of the same. Caring professions are incredibly draining and burnout is a massive issue in the medical workforce. Make sure you’re prioritising a bit of self care and joy to offset the emotional toll of work.
Creativity can look like nearly anything. If you like visual arts, awesome. Pick up those art supplies and get making. Crack out YouTube and follow a tutorial to learn a new skill, or revisit a medium you loved when you were younger. However, the idea of making art is about as appealing as doing a DRE, that’s OK. Self care and creativity can really be anything- try keeping active in a new way, try cooking something new or take a leaf out of my book and wear something overly cheerful to work. You might just make yourself and everyone around you smile.
I’ll leave you as I started, with a thought from the glorious Dr Osler. I have a feeling he would’ve appreciated all the doctors that are just trying to stay human in this crazy profession.
The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.