Why PAs Should Prioritize Self-Care

PAs should be living a life with intention and balance

Courtney Titus, MPAS, PA-C, EMT-P

I have to be honest, when I see the words “self-care” I often will silently roll my eyes. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when today’s guest sent me a message. Joel Olmstead, a PA Entrepreneur, reached out asking to make a video for EmpoweredPAs.com, citing he wanted to highlight some things PAs can do to manage stress. Insert eye roll here. My initial reaction was that this must be a scam, an attempt to promote a marketing scheme or some other devious purpose. As the owner of Empowered PAs, I get a lot of bogus requests, people asking for some type of online endorsement, that are self-serving and do not “empower” anyone but them. So, when Joel reached out to me, I initially thought the worst.

They Just Don’t Understand

I’m a skeptic at heart. You see, as a PA (an ER PA to be exact) it often feels like no one understands how chaotic and unpredictable our schedules can get. It feels incredibly insensitive when people say things like “you should really make time yourself”. It becomes painfully obvious that they do not work in a place that has to be open 24/7, including holidays, nights and weekends. Schedule a workout class? Yeah right. Even dental appointments are awful to try and work into a schedule. The phrase “what day is good for you?” is like the punchline of a long joke. Like many PAs, my schedule varies by day, and it can be exhausting. One day it is swim lessons with the kids, the next could be a night shift, and the next could be a weekend workday. As a parent and a spouse, trying to navigate through all the colors of our synchronized google calendar is so awful, it usually requires a glass of wine. I mention this because when people talk about “self-care” I immediately want to show them the colorful mozaic that represents my life. When the hell am I supposed to fit in self-care? In between swim lessons and the drive to work? Or, should it be after the long drive home, when I arrive an hour after the kids have gone to bed and all I want to do is crawl in bed?

So, when I spoke with Joel on the phone, I was surprised to learn that he genuinely wanted to make a difference for PAs. He works in the field of Emergency Medicine, so he can empathize with what real life is for PAs. He also owns a health and wellness coaching business called Biomveda (which I quickly clarified is not a franchise or part of another company) where he has said he really enjoyed helping others reach their goals.

After speaking with him, I believe his message applies and can Empower PAs, and that he is right, we really should be doing a better job at taking care of ourselves.

Is “Burnout” Really a Thing?

The discussion of medical provider “burnout” is everywhere, and is regularly included as a topic in conferences and is often discussed in social media PA Forums on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I’ve seen it in AAPA’s Huddle forum as well). No matter your opinion on it, the symptoms of burnout are certainly palpable and while things like “self-care” are most definitely not the solution, they are a good insurance policy. Regardless of your clinical environment, the state or country you work in, or your patient population, you will feel stressed out at some point in your career. Learning how to manage your emotions and knowing when to check in with yourself is essential to being a PA.

Learning how to manage your emotions and knowing when to check in with yourself is essential to being a PA.

Courtney Titus, MPAS, PA-C, EMT-P

I want to support and Empower PA Entrepreneurs, and recognize that it’s not a “one size fits all” kind of deal. The Ayurvedic lifestyle is not my thing, I’ll be completely honest, but it may resonate with some of you, and that is what this site is about. As much as I’d love to get stronger, and commit to a healthier regimen, it’s not always in the cards for me. What does resonate though, and what I believe is the message, is that PAs should be living a life with intention and balance.

So, with that introduction, I’ll hand the mic over to Joel. The things he shares are not revolutionary but are good reminders of the importance of self-care, without the eye roll. Take the 8 and a half minutes to listen to a PA colleague, if there is something that resonates, then it will have been worth your while.

Joel Olmstead, PA-C

(If you can’t see the video, click here for the link.)

“Does anyone wish they had more time in their days? Can anyone relate to feeling overwhelmed, and pulled in several directions at once?

An unfortunate reality in today’s society is often times the more successful we become the less time we have. As PAs, we have some additional unique challenges: Not only do we give to others all day long, but when we get home we find ourselves in the same role: we are the mediators, helpers and problem solvers for everyone around us. Add in our tendency to absorb others’ energy based on our empathetic nature, and you have a recipe for exhaustion!

By constantly giving to others, we quickly end up losing focus on ourselves. Our healthy habits start to wane – we get to bed and wake up later, start to experience brain fog, begin to skip meal prep and gym trips… you know the drill.

So, how can we manage our time more effectively and beat overwhelm?

Here are a few tips to help you reprioritize your health and happiness:

Tip 1: Understand what you are and are not in control of:

  • Your supervising physician may override your decisions
  • Your patients may not be compliant with your plans
  • Your family may be reactive and emotionally draining

You cannot control these areas of your life! Quit leaking energy here and practice acceptance. Constantly trying to control the things outside of your control will leave you unable to control the things you can.

Tip 2: Understand the three areas of your life that you are in control of:

  • Joy – You alone are responsible for your joy – if you will not prioritize yourself, no one will.
  • Health – When our health wanes, the very people you are trying to serve will suffer.  
  • Emotional regulation – By constantly giving, you lose your ability to respond and become reactive.

Leveraging these areas of your life is inside-out job that requires some energy initially, but will pay exponential dividends in the long run.

Tip 3: Prioritize these three areas in two critical times of day:

  • First thing when you wake up in the morning
  • And right before you go to sleep in the evening

In the morning, do something for yourself before you check Facebook, answer emails, or serve anyone else. A few simple morning ideas:

  • Drink a big glass of water first thing
  • Write out 3 things you are grateful for
  • Make your bed

Before bed, do things that will help you let go of the day so you can enjoy peaceful rest (and not dream about work!). A few simple evening ideas:

  • 5 minutes of meditation or journalling
  • Read a book
  • Spend time with loved ones

Even 5 minutes will make a massive impact on your happiness. Start with super simple things:

What makes you happy? What makes you feel healthy and empowered? What makes you feel emotionally stable? Reprioritize these and enjoy the trickle down benefits in your life (your patients, family, and friends will thank you too!).

This is not groundbreaking information, but often the simplest reminders can be the most powerful (and the easiest to be forgotten). Empower yourself first, so you can serve others better.”

If you would like to learn more about Joel, and his company Biomveda, check him out on Facebook at Joel Anthony Olmstead, or on Instagram at Biomveda.

Thanks again to Joel for reaching out and creating a video for Empowered PAs. I’ll do my best to stop the “self-care” eye-rolling, and have already started to be more intentional when I wake up in the morning, by avoiding looking at social media within that first 5 minutes. It’s a small effort, but I’m finding it to be a positive one. Living with intention is something I’ve been trying to work on, and so I hope it has helped some of our PA colleagues as well!

Today’s post was a little different and I’d love your feedback! Please reach out to me by email (info@empoweredpas.com) or by messaging through Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Physician Assistant, Owner and Blogger at EmpoweredPAs.com. Currently practicing in a Pediatric Emergency Department, overseeing and developing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines with teams of amazing people, supporting and mentoring Pre-PA and PA Students, with a hope to advance our profession and give PAs the tools and resouces they need to advance their careers.