A career in health is a marathon, not a sprint!

It’s not that uncommon that I find myself at a high school careers event chatting with a high school student who will say “oh, I just want to get through the uni / TAFE course as quickly as I can so that I can start working as soon as I can.” They say this with the tone of voice which gives me the vibe that they believe as soon as they’re qualified life will be easy as the hard work is over.  As a practicing health professional with 10 years’ experience, I would say that the hard work is only just beginning when you get out there in the workforce.

As crunch time approaches for getting in applications to study at TAFE or university in 2015, it’s worth noting that if you are looking at becoming a health professional, the career is really more like a marathon rather than a sprint.
And here are a few reasons why I think this is the case……

Days which become weeks which become years
Let’s consider a “standard” 8 hour work day, which goes from 9 to 5 with a ½ hour lunch break (although some health professionals may do shifts of up to 12 hours). If you were a sprinter, you might see a couple of patients by 10am and go home because your work day is over. And then you would come back and do the same sprint the next day. Or you could work all day on a Monday and then not come back until the following Monday. But it becomes a marathon when you show up for 8 hours a day, week in, week out, year after year.

Getting into a rhythm
There are times when I will work for half a day (e.g. a Saturday or when I have been asked to fill in on a day where I have other commitments in the morning or afternoon). If I were a sprinter, doing a 3-4 hour day might feel long. But being in it for the long haul, I find myself going home feeling like I’ve “done nothing” even if I’ve been fully booked, as I seem to get into a rhythm on a normal 8 hour day. If you are running a 100m race, you just don’t have the time to get into a rhythm like you would if you were running a marathon.

The mental game
A big part of being a health professional is keeping it together mentally day after day, week after week, year after year when all sorts of things – good and bad might be happening in the workplace or in your personal life.

I think the mental side of being a health professional is something that is not discussed widely enough amongst practitioners. Again, if we look consider the 100m sprinter vs the marathon runner…. but this time add in someone heckling from the sidelines.

The 100m sprinter might be going so fast that they hardly even notice someone yelling abuse at them, and if they do notice it, the race is over in around 10 seconds, so they can either go back and confront that person after they finish the race, or leave the track straight away.

The marathon runner would be more likely to hear a heckler from the sideline, and could possibly have another hour or two of running ahead of them at the time of the abuse. That’s quite a long time to potentially have that negative stuff in their head while they are trying to run a race. While it’s quite common for an elite athlete to have a sports psychologist to help them deal with this, have you heard of a health professional who sees a psychologist on a regular basis to discuss strategies to overcome these things? In my 10 years as a health professional, I’ve heard of one.

But really, think about it. What if your first patient of the day was grumpy and comes in and tells you that they don’t want to be there seeing you (but they HAVE to be there for a specific reason), that they your profession is a joke, that health professionals rip people off without providing anything useful, that they don’t like your shoes/shirt/looks/personality and then deliberately make it difficult for you to do your examination….. okay, okay…. you get my drift….. But seriously, if that’s your first person for the day, you will need to be able to do your best, keep going and try not to let it affect you when you see the rest of your patients that day or week.

Amanda – Founder My Health Career.

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