by Matthew Demarco, MD
It was 5 am on yet another Saturday where I was slated to go out for a 3-4 hour long run in preparation for Speedgoat 50k. Our 3-month-old lay asleep in his crib. The night before, my wife and I had been discussing what it looked like for us to continue to grow as parents and as teammates in parenting. As I slipped out the door, I would say I was feeling some guilt. I love running, but training this much for a race is a team effort. 10+ hour weeks in the mountains require the full support of your partner especially when you have a newborn. As the training block wore on, I could not help but feel that maybe my passion for running had created some blind spots in how I arranged my priorities. I was not the teammate my wife needed in that season of life.
We all have things we are passionate about in our lives, running, working, skiing, climbing, writing, reading, traveling, etc. The important thing with these passions is that they always stay in the proper orientation in our lives. So often we unintentionally shift our focus and priorities to hobbies and lesser passions instead of the things we value most. For me, I value my family most, but I found that as I devoted more time to running, my priorities shifted. This shift in priorities led to a lack of boundaries, worsening relationships, and burnout as I took more time away from the thing I valued most.
At this point you may be wondering what relevance this has to medicine. In medicine often we are called to re-orient our lives, re-arrange our priorities, and put our work first. Unfortunately, our good passion for medicine begins to usurp our ultimate values and passions. Boundaries begin to erode; we start finishing notes at home, answering patient questions on the weekend, and expanding our work hours to meet patient demand. As we start to prioritize work, we spend less time doing the thing we said we would never compromise. What I have found with my misplaced emphasis on running is that anytime one passion expands it means another must shrink. Often without even realizing it our health, family, and connectedness suffers from this well-meaning attempt to take care of our patients.
So, what is the solution? First, we need to know what we value most and remind ourselves often that this value takes priority over all other passions. Secondly, we need people around us who know us well, know what we value, and can speak honestly and openly to us. This community helps keep us grounded. Those around us help us see that our priority of passions have shifted and help us reorient us when we begin to drift. Finally, we need safeguards in place to keep us from unintentionally shifting our priorities. This will look different for everyone, but we all need to think deeply how to keep our passions aligned with our ultimate values in life.
Dr. DeMarco is from Charleston, SC. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina in exercise science. He completed his medical education at the Medical University of South Carolina. His medical interests include lifestyle medicine, sports medicine, underserved populations, mindfulness and tropical medicine. In his free time, he enjoys running, hiking, skiing, spikeball, soccer, and exploring national parks with his wife. He chose the University of Utah because of the unique blend of university and community hospital training, amazing faculty, and world-class opportunities to pursue passions within medicine while also enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.