Medical News Today: Physicians: Five extraordinary hobbies to keep burnout at bay

From stand-up comedy to knitting teddy bears, some physicians have unique ways to unwind from daily stress and keep the looming threat of burnout, which hangs over the medical profession, at bay.
Physician burnout
Can hobbies help to stave off burnout?

Burnout rates among physicians in the United States are at an all time high. In fact, the levels of burnout among physicians are substantially higher than in the general population.

Satisfaction with work-life balance is also on the decline.

In the United Kingdom, a recent survey by the British Medical Association revealed that more than half of general practitioners (GP) — the U.K. equivalent of family physicians — live with stress and that 1 in 10 had taken time off work due to it in the past year.

Recent research has examined successful strategies to address burnout at both the workplace and in the physician’s self-care.

How do physicians spend their time after work, and what activities could help them to cope with the demands of the medical profession? Medical News Today spoke with five healthcare professionals to find out about their unconventional hobbies.

Playing the strings

Dr. Cho LSO
Dr. Michael Cho, who describes being part of the LSO as ‘great therapy.’
Image credit: Peter Xiong

For Dr. Michael Cho, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician from Boston, MA, playing the violin and viola as a part of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is something he described as a “huge de-stressor.”

Music plays a big part in Dr. Cho’s life. A student of the violin since the age of 5, he added the viola to his repertoire from age 20. Dr. Cho joined the LSO in 2003.

Dr. Cho said that being part of the orchestra is great therapy.

“My work can be very stressful and it is wonderful to be able to meet up with my colleagues and make music. I am able to put my mind to something else that is completely different,” Dr. Cho explained to MNT.

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Mixing medicine and comedy

Dr. Patrick
Dr. Ed Patrick combines medicine and comedy in his stand-up routines.
Image credit: Edward Moore

Try not to ask U.K.-based emergency medicine physician and stand-up comedian Ed Patrick to choose between his love of medicine and his love of comedy. He simply couldn’t.

“I love doing medicine and I love stand-up and comedy too,” Dr. Patrick told MNT. “I couldn’t imagine doing one without the other. Comedy helps to put things into perspective.”

On some days, he explained, he might have a challenging day at the hospital but a great gig the same night. “It becomes a release almost. One really complements the other,” he said.

Dr. Patrick’s routine is packed with anecdotes about his experiences as a junior doctor. “You’re put into so many different situations in medicine, and I find a lot of the things I talk about come from exploring my feelings and reactions to them. Of course, I try to make it funny as well!”

Dr. Patrick is currently performing across the U.K.

Knitting teddies and harvesting strawberries

Dr. Baker
To relax, Dr. Kate Baker knits teddy bears and visits her allotment.

For GP Dr. Kate Baker, who works in Cardiff, U.K., work has never been so busy.

She is a partner at her medical practice and is currently working with the health board on a new health center development. She is also involved with the local medical committee.

“When sitting in the evenings,” Dr. Baker told us, “I’m generally knitting teddies for special friends and family.”

“In addition,” she said, “my weekends are spent working on our allotment [fruit and vegetable garden] and walking our […] puppy. It provides a real escape from my busy professional life.”

Dr. Baker has enjoyed being creative since she was a child and added that the patchwork quilt she created when she was 18 still lives on in her spare room.

Knitting teddies is something of an unusual way to unwind, and she explained that it was a birthday gift from her mother — a book on teddy knitting — that was the catalyst to finding this outlet. “I enjoy making them so much,” Dr. Baker said.

As someone who grew up in the countryside, the outdoor release that the family’s allotment offers is just the tonic for Dr. Baker.

The allotment has recently had its first harvest of strawberries, cucumbers, peas, and radishes. “I feel like I’ve been on holiday when I have time to unwind among everything growing,” she explained.

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‘I felt compelled to paint’

Dr. Brown
Dr. Jeffrey M. Brown calls the notion of painting being relaxing a ‘myth.’

What is the first word that pops into your head when you think about painting? If it’s “relaxing,” Dr. Jeffrey E. Brown has news for you.

“There is a myth that surrounds painting,” said the family practitioner from California, “that it must be so relaxing.”

“Personally,” he continued, “I get worked up after having made countless decisions about composition, balance, color, and meaning.”

“I feel exhausted but satisfied by the end of the process!”

Dr. Brown’s interest in painting developed through his love of collecting art. “After having spent so much time with artists, [in] galleries, and museums, I just felt compelled to begin to paint,” he said.

“Some oil paintings provoke strong feelings of pleasure in me, both to collect and to paint. I’m happy to continue riding the wave!”

‘Writing offers a specific type of stress relief’

Dr. Macdonell-Yilmaz
Dr. Rebecca Macdonell-Yilmaz’s first career goal was to write.

Dr. Rebecca MacDonell-Yilmaz is a pediatrician and hospice and palliative medicine fellow at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

“I have always loved to write and being a writer was actually my first career goal,” Dr. MacDonell-Yilmaz told MNT.

Dr. MacDonell-Yilmaz got into poetry via a local poetry writing group and soon found that she was hooked.

“Once I had felt the rush of relief that comes from words tumbling out onto the page,” she explained, “I knew that I wouldn’t stop writing.”

Writing essays and poetry offers a specific type of stress relief in that I’m often writing about things I have encountered or struggled with at work. I end up getting not only the benefit of taking time out for creativity but also the chance to process very challenging or emotional situations related to my work.”

Dr. Rebecca MacDonell-Yilmaz

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Finding your own outlet

Finding a creative activity that you enjoy may have benefits beyond providing much-needed stress relief; it might also make you a better healthcare professional. That’s according to research from psychologists at San Francisco State University in California.

Getting creative — whether that’s via the arts, crafts, or by getting out into the great outdoors — can not only help you to unwind, but it could also provide an effective way to manage stress and recover from the demands of your professional life.

The start of the New Year might be a good time to rekindle old hobbies or to start something new and unique to you.

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