By Patricia Martinez Quinones, MD
As over-achieving female physicians we strive for perfection in all aspects of our lives. We are not satisfied with being mothers, wives, daughters, (insert noun here). We aim to be good mothers, good wives, good daughters, etc. Besides the pressure we place on ourselves we also took an oath to take care adequately for the sick, but how can we take care of our patients if we don’t know how to take care of ourselves?
With the demands of general surgery residency, a husband and household, I did not consider my well-being a priority. I slowly found my physical, emotional and mental health starting to deteriorate. I grew up in Puerto Rico, where cardiovascular disease and diabetes are two of the three most common causes of death. All of my grandparents have had complications of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In an attempt to prevent these complications in myself I changed my lifestyle.
I embarked on a health and well-being journey. I am sharing with you some of what I have learned and done along the way. My first step on this journey was a diet overhaul. I was eating cafeteria food, or fast food at least three to four days a week. I made a commitment to myself that I would only buy lunch once a week. I tried meal subscription delivery services (for more information refer to Dr. Miner’s recent blog post) and learned new recipes that I have now incorporated. Eventually I settled on meal prepping as my go-to. I pick one day a week (my off-day usually) and prepare several vegetables, grains and at least two different protein sources. This change led to improved eating habits, extra free time on weeknights and one less thing to worry about.
Not only did my diet undergo a much-needed overhaul, but so did my non-existent self-care routine. Fearing burnout, as I have seen in some of my colleagues I tried to find ways to cope with stress. I settled on the idea of a “self-care week.” For an entire week, I did one thing a day that would allow me to relax and improve my overall sense of self. The week kicked off with a trip to the salon for a pedicure. During the week I also started reading a fiction novel, had a massage and even a dreaded visit to the dentist, who I must admit I hadn’t been to since starting residency. My “self-care week” felt like a vacation, although I invested about an hour a day. I realized how little emphasis I was placing on me-time and how a few minutes a day could lead to an improved version of me.
My journey of self-care continues. I’ve learned to prioritize my health, along with that of my patients. This has translated into improved relationships with my family and co-workers. Taking an entire “self-care week” often is not plausible for most, but I do hope that my experience inspires you to do something you enjoy and learn to take care of you.
Patricia Martinez Quinones is a general surgery resident at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. She is a wife and doggy-mom who is on a well-being inspired journey to learn self-care. She is interested in trauma and critical care and academic medicine. She hopes to inspire other female residents and medical students to learn how to take care of themselves as well as their patients – and themselves.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.