Viewpoint: Dealing with stress

April 15, 2010

While conversing with a group of professors during a recent dinner at an ophthalmology meeting, it occurred to the author that the people sitting around the table represented four continents. As the lone American, he felt his colleagues may be able to offer a message to ophthalmologists in the United States.

"In my country," I began, "there is anxiety among ophthalmologists. Our economy is not strong, and there is great uncertainty surrounding a new law changing our health-care system and a threatened 21% pay cut from our large governmental insurer. Many physicians-perhaps even a majority-say they would discourage their own children from going to medical school."

The group found this interesting and even surprising. One of the professors (a uveitis specialist) said it was very different in his country, where physician-parents routinely urge their children to pursue medical careers. He said he would not push his children to go to medical school, but would certainly encourage any interest on their part.

"What suggestions do you have for American ophthalmologists who feel stressed by the pressures of work, the economic recession, and the uncertainties related to governmental regulation?" I asked my colleagues. "What do ophthalmologists in your country do to help themselves feel happy and recharge their batteries?"

The following suggestions were offered:

1. "Exercise," suggested one European ophthalmologist and all heads nodded in agreement.

2. "I call a friend and invite him to go out for a martini and conversation with me after work," said an Asian colleague. Others liked this idea.

3. "A 2-day trip to the beach or the country," said another. The consensus was that this was very effective, but often a challenge for busy ophthalmologists to schedule.

4. "Go out for an excellent dinner with a spouse [or significant other]." Everyone approved of this suggestion.

5. "Go dancing," said a South American professor. All the diners said they approved of this suggestion, but I had the sneaking suspicion that few were doing it.

6. "Go to the movies," came next. When asked what category of movie was most effective, the answer was romantic-comedy.

7. "Read the chief medical editor's column in Ophthalmology Times," someone finally suggested. "What's that?" asked the other diners.

What can we learn from this learned and diverse body of professors? Despite the shocking ignorance of this global group regarding my column in Ophthalmology Times, it emphasized to me the almost universal desirability of a career in medicine outside the United States. My thought is that we American ophthalmologists should resolve to implement all the suggestions on this list during the next month. This might help us deal with the stresses and uncertainties we face, be happier, and better appreciate how lucky we are to be physicians.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.

He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu