This is my first post, so I will introduce myself. Thank you so much to KC and all of you veteran MiMs for this opportunity. I've been a reader for years, since residency, and found MiM so helpful when thinking about my future career. I'm a family physician in a mid-sized Canadian city. I've been in practice for seven years, which still feels very "early career" to me. I work full time - 35-40 hours/week counting clinical plus admin time. I call it full time but always somewhat sheepishly around other physicians! I have a three year old son and one year old daughter, and a work-from-home husband. I'm involved in refugee health work and am community faculty for our medical school. For me, some amount of "big picture" work has always helped me maintain enthusiasm and appreciation for the clinical work. I look forward to reading your stories, and sharing mine!
A few months ago, I was getting bogged down by excessive self doubt and perfectionism at work. The main way it manifested was in ruminating and worrying over decisions once I'd made them, but there was also over-thinking clinical choices, triple- (quadruple?) checking, and asking for advice when I really didn't need to. I try to take a pretty balanced approach to life, accepting the "good enough" principle and refraining from placing unrealistic expectations on myself. But "good enough" never seems to fit with medicine. I can accept vulnerability and imperfection in other areas in my life, but medicine? There's no room for it. I think our patients and society echo this as well; after all, it's comforting to think that physicians are the ultimate authorities in health and it's disconcerting that we are inherently flawed humans. We are socialized and trained in this mindset as well. Of course, we must be conscientious physicians. I'm not talking about being sloppy or less than thorough. But, recognizing that we are human, even when we are conscientious, careful and keep our knowledge and skills up-to-date, we'll falter.
During this time, I came across an excellent article on the topic of Overcare, written by the late Dr. Lee Lipsenthal and adapted from his book "Finding Balance in a Medical Life". Overcare was a new concept for me, and a useful one. Dr. Lipsenthal talks about overcare as a chronic emotional state that physicians can get into, and it involves agonizing over decisions we have made, and at the core of it, wondering "Am I a good enough doctor?" There are several factors at play. Our personalities tend to be perfectionistic, and we do carry a lot of responsibility. He talks about our addiction to being needed and how the intermittent positive reinforcement we get from patients can lead to us doing more and more, hoping and waiting for the "reward" of a satisfied patient. The perfectionism expectation in medicine is often instilled into us during training, and also informs how we judge others; we in turn also fear being judged harshly by our colleagues. This is especially true for me as a family physician. Any time one of my patients is seen in the Emergency Room or by a specialist I've referred them to, my care will be under scrutiny. I find that Impostor Syndrome often tags along with this overcare and perfectionism. If your expectation is that a "perfect physician" is the default, yet you witness your inherently imperfect self, impostor syndrome can creep in.
How can we counter overcare? Personally, it helps to remind myself that I am competent and doing the best that I can. And that I am human. I try to consciously make a decision, and make peace with the inherent uncertainty. I ask myself a useful question from cognitive-behavioural therapy for anxiety: am I problem-solving, or worrying? If the latter, move on. Do I think about patients after hours or change my mind about decisions? Of course, but I have a better sense now of what qualifies as being conscientious, and what is actually overcare.
Do you struggle with overcare? Are there any strategies you've found helpful?