Canadian Medical Association

Resilience 101: Staying resilient in medical training and practice settings

An overview of resilience skills and strategies to help physicians deal with their day-to-day challenges

Resilience is a critical skill you can learn to help you recover from and adjust to adverse events. By strengthening this skill over time, you can overcome both anticipated and unexpected difficulties — and in doing so, provide the best care for your patients. 

In the 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey, 82% of physicians and residents reported high resilience. After a stressful event or day, these physicians invest their personal energy in positive thought patterns such as maintaining perspective, taking a break to consciously recharge, or finding empathy for challenging co-workers and patients. Such thoughts and actions are better for mental health than negative ones like blaming, ruminating or overworking.

Although health care systems, workplaces and culture need to evolve to truly protect physician wellness, personal resilience can help you bounce back from the daily demands of medicine.

Physicians’ suggestions for building resiliency

Use these resilience-building tips that were recommended by other physicians, as reported in Academic Medicine and the Ontario Medical Association’s Physician Health Program.

  • Balance and prioritize. Take regular time-outs, including vacations, sleep, and proper meals and snacks. Cultivate extra-professional resources and engage in leisure activities such as sports, hobbies and cultural events.
  • Nurture positive professional relationships. Meet with other physicians to exchange views, discuss best practices and support each other. 
  • Prioritize personal relationships. Family and friends can provide stability and understanding, helping you put things in perspective and bringing you down to earth. 
  • Celebrate gains and appreciate the positives in your life. Take time to acknowledge your accomplishments, such as curing a patient, playing a role in their vital decisions, establishing good relations with them or receiving compliments. Express gratitude for the good things in your life, such as freedom within your profession, good health and meaningful work. Be sure to extend that gratitude to others when they do something for you.
  • Continue your professional development. Take advantage of learning opportunities and read medical literature to engage intellectually with your work. Develop perspectives that help you value your role and respect and appreciate your patients. Consider exploring a new job or a specialty in a different sector — for example, if you love working with kids, look into pediatrics.
  • Practice mindfulness-based stress reduction. Practices like meditation and deep breathing exercises promote relaxation through non-judgmental awareness of moment-to-moment sensations, experiences and reactions. These practices can reduce distress and negative feelings.
  • Seek cognitive behavioural stress prevention. Try relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or cognitive behavioural therapy interventions that challenge irrational and negative thoughts.
  • Engage in personal reflection and self-awareness. Consciously and regularly reflect on your personal situation: where you are, where you want to go and what you need to change to get there. Self-assess using the Canadian Armed Forces’ Road to Mental Readiness continuum.
  • Maintain clearly defined personal boundaries. Maintain appropriate professional distance between yourself and your patients and also between yourself and your colleagues and superiors. 
  • Get organized. Create your own routines and time structures to deal with bureaucracy and regular chores. Set priorities and delegate what you can. 
  • Take time for spiritual practices. If spiritual practices provide you with support and regeneration, make sure you set aside time for them.

See the CMA how-to guide for more tips on building up your resilience.

Results from the latest 2021 National Physician Health Survey and more recent physician health and wellness data are available here.


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