#313 Leadership insight: Self-care as a leadership competence
28 September 2021
Self-care is a topic that resonated strongly with our junior doctors in a recent Emerging Leader Program and comes up often in the coaching work we do with senior doctors and medical leaders across all specialties. As the COVID-19 numbers are predicted to rise over the coming months, increasing pressure on our doctors, attending to self-care remains important.
Self-care essentially means to tend to your physical, mental, social and emotional health. In theory it sounds obvious and simple, but we know in reality that this can be difficult for doctors to prioritise. To lead well, you need to be well. Effective leadership involves a duty of care for those around you – colleagues and staff, as well as your patients.
Self-care means different things to different people. There is no definitive list of what is good or ‘right’ for each person. Rather, it is important to find out what feels right for you – what is it that increases feelings of wellbeing and happiness? The development of a self-care plan and the role modelling of good self-care practices as a leader and colleague are an important part of the leadership development work we do. In our view it’s as important as setting goals and action plans for developing effective collaborative leadership skills. We know, and research shows, that prioritising and practising self-care enables you to be more effective at work and deliver better patient care.
What can a self-care plan look like?
Creating a plan simply means to write down some of the things you are currently doing and would like to do (goals) and refine them into specific targets and goals. For example, “I stay up too late most nights, and I would like to sleep earlier at least two nights per week”. Writing things down helps to clarify our thinking and can also increase our commitment and motivation and sense of accountability. Start by considering how you may currently care for yourself in these areas below. Are there things you are doing currently that are supporting you well? And are these areas where you could be taking a bit more care?
- Food and nutrition – eating and time to eat and drink (at home and at work)
- Exercise and physical activity
- Sleep and rest
- Social connection and relationships
- Emotional and mental health – rest, recover, re-energise
- Happiness and joy
A next important step is to check that your plan is realistic and achievable – that you have set out a small number of things that you can realistically incorporate into your everyday life right now. for example, in the area of food and nutrition, a small goal may be to buy some healthy snacks to keep in your workbag and buy a new large water bottle. It is not a time to start a whole new way of eating and cooking complex meals! Similarly with exercise – some small goals may be to include a 30-minute walk twice a week and start your days off with 20mins of yoga. It is probably not time to pressure yourself to run 5kms.
Our Leadership coaching service offers a range of leadership coaching programs, including a free 15 minute leader/manager check-in, and we encourage you to review the 'resource' page in the leadership section of our website. Further resources especially curated for health professionals by the AMA Wellbeing team and the Black Dog Institute are linked below.
Dr Anna Clark PhD
Leadership consultant & coach
AMA Victoria's Leadership & Professional Coaching team is here to support members reach their professional potential and build their leadership capability. Visit the leadership coaching section here to find out more.
Resources from the AMA Wellbeing team
- Doctors, it's OK to take a break – adequate rest is essential for safe and competent practice
- The importance of self-compassion for doctors
Black Dog Institute resources
- TEN – The essential network for helping healthcare workers find resources and support to manage burnout and maintain good mental health
- Resources to support wellbeing