Physicians Anonymous

physician self care

Physician self care is not selfish

Physicians are overworked and hospitals understaffed. We often work 24+ hour days and have little time to take care of ourselves. This article will explore barriers to physician self care and help physicians develop self-care practices for their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual health.

Doctors are super-skilled at caring for everyone but themselves.  We save lives, deal with crises, perform surgeries, hold space for people in the worst times of their lives. We teach, research, administrate, and operate. And we also work in understaffed, under-resourced, and high-expectation high-litigation systems.  

Therefore, it’s not surprising therefore that physicians experience higher rates of burnout, depression, and anxiety, and suicide than the general population. Yet 6 out of 10 physicians are burned out, over 300 doctors die by suicide a year. 

 Moreover, despite this epidemic of burnout, 2021 MedScape Physicians Survey suggested only a third would reach out for help. We have written about why doctors don’t seek help here, and how to address that with a Physicians’ Mental Health Charter here

There is a reason why we have to affix our own oxygen mask before helping others; or ensure safety before beginning the ABCs of CPR.

Doctors are super-skilled at caring for everyone but themselves.

What is Physician Self Care?

Self-care is an important part of being a physician. It is not only about physical care, but also mental and emotional care. Self-care is often overlooked in the healthcare profession, but it is just as important as any other aspect of our health. 

The more we take care of ourselves, the more we can provide quality care to others.

Moreover, self-care is not just in order to better serve our patients. It also because as human beings who happen to be doctors, we deserve a lifestyle optimized for thriving rather than surviving. Some writers have gone so far as to say “put yourself first“.

The goal of self-care should, we think, be:

(1) to build up our reserves against the stressors of modern medicine, and recognize when we need help and

 (2) to find ways that we can get that help before it becomes a bigger problem.

Barriers to physician self care

There are a number of reasons why physicians may be reluctant to prioritize self care. Here are a few common ones:

  1. Time constraints: Many physicians have demanding schedules and may feel that we do not have enough time to focus on their own wellbeing.
  1. Guilt: Some physicians may feel guilty for taking time for themselves, particularly if we are caring for patients who are very sick or in need of constant attention.
  1. Personal responsibility: Some physicians may feel a strong sense of personal responsibility to their patients and may believe that taking time for self care is selfish or a sign of weakness.
  1. Culture: In some cases, the culture of the healthcare profession may discourage self care. For example, some physicians may feel pressure to work long hours or to always be available for their patients.
  1. Stigma: There may be a stigma attached to seeking help for mental health or other personal issues, which can prevent physicians from seeking the support we need.
Probably the main reason? Fear: As Pamela Wible MD, a shining light in physician suicide prevention writes: “Physicians are terrified they may lose their livelihood—even if their job is killing them”. 

Self-care is an important part of being a physician. It is not only about physical care, but also mental and emotional care.

It is important for physicians to maintain a good work-life balance and to seek support from colleagues, friends, and loved ones when needed.

Some ways to invest in your own well being as a physician may involve taking steps such as:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Finding ways to manage stress 
  • Making time for self-care activities such as exercise, relaxation, and hobbies.

How to practice self care as a physician

Here are a few ways that physicians can overcome barriers to self care:

  1. Make self care a priority: It is important for physicians to recognize the importance of self care and to make it a priority in their lives. This may involve setting aside specific time for self care activities, such as exercise or relaxation, and saying no to additional commitments when necessary.
  1. Seek support: Many physicians find it helpful to seek support from colleagues, friends, or family members in order to prioritize self care. This can involve seeking guidance from a mentor, joining a support group (like Physicians Anonymous), or simply talking to a trusted friend about the challenges we are facing. We don’t need a formal group though – just a phone call, cup of coffee, or water cooler moment can make a difference to a colleague.
  1. Practice self-compassion: It is important for physicians to be kind to themselves and to recognize that it is okay to make mistakes or to ask for help. Practicing self-compassion can help physicians to be more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges of their profession.
  1. Seek professional help: If self care efforts are not enough to address the challenges that physicians are facing, it may be necessary to seek help from a mental health professional. This can be especially important if physicians are experiencing burnout or other mental health issues.
  1. Take breaks: It is important for physicians to take breaks and to unplug from work when possible. This can help to prevent burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Easier said than done, we know, but if our nursing colleagues and airline pilots can do it, so can we!


Physicians, investing in your own well-being through self-care is important for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, it allows you to provide the best possible care to your patients. When you are feeling rested, healthy, and balanced, you are better able to focus on your work and make sound decisions. 


Additionally, taking care of yourself can help to prevent burnout, which is a common problem among healthcare professionals. Burnout can lead to a decline in job satisfaction and an increase in medical errors, so it is important to take steps to prevent it. 


Overall, there are many reasons why physicians may be reluctant to prioritize self care. It is important for physicians to understand the importance of self care and to make it a priority in their lives. For their patients, colleagues, and loved ones — but mainly for themselves.

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