What it takes: preparation; stamina; appreciation

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A physician’s workload can be overwhelming and stressful. But we’re more than doctors. We have families and we have passions outside of work. How do we balance the demands of one without sacrificing the others?

According to Dr. Esta Bovill, it takes preparation, stamina and appreciation. These were three of the four things she learned by competing in the grueling Marathon des Sables in 2013. (The fourth was that she now hated running.)

Dr. Bovill describes herself as a wife and mother, a plastic surgeon, and a bike racer. She isn’t Superwoman but rather combines these three areas of her life in a way that each can exist in harmony.

“Rather than competing for time, I see each role as actually improving and enhancing my performance in the others,” she told VPSA members gathered for the October Unique Lives in Medicine luncheon. “The least favourite comment I hear is, ‘How do you find the time?’ I don’t! But I do maximize what time I have. My number one is my husband. He’s my practice manager, a super dad, and homemaker. He is not only a huge emotional support to me and the children, but is responsible for me being able to maximize my own bandwidth, to elevate the energy and excellence I can bring to both work and training.”

Following the Marathon des Sables, Dr. Bovill fell in love with bike racing and every spare moment is dedicated to training. Earlier this year she took the bronze medal in her age category at the World Masters Road Race near Varese in Italy and, just last month, won the women’s overall at the Whistler Grand Fondo.

“I’m not the first to make the analogy between surgeons and high-performance athletes,” noted Dr. Bovill. “An article in the New Yorker drew analogies between the two in terms of sleep, recovery, focus, mindfulness, equipment and teamwork that really resonated with me. I knew I had skills from my sporting passion that were transferable to my work but this was the first time I thought to delineate them more precisely.”

Measuring her heart rate and heart rate variability to ensure she is recovering sufficiently has made Dr. Bovill more aware of the physical stress surgeons’ jobs have. She now takes every opportunity that presents itself to maximize rest and recovery. That includes small steps such as sitting down at a microscope during surgery instead of standing.

During the Marathon des Sables, Dr. Bovill learned the importance of putting one foot in front of the other. She breaks her surgeries down into small steps too so they won’t seem so daunting. In both her racing and her surgeries, she practices visualization, negative thought blocking, self-affirmations, and breathing techniques.

“In many ways it’s not just what it takes to but who it takes,” added Dr. Bovill. “This is where appreciation comes in. The people I need in order to do what I do (my husband; kids; coach; mentor; colleagues; team) become the people I do it for. And those people know they will get the same support from me in return. At work, we know each case takes a team and the longer and more challenging a surgery, the more important teamwork is. The sum of the parts becomes greater than the individual as you feed off each other in terms of both energy and confidence. Like other things in my life, being a surgeon takes preparation, commitment and, most of all, support.”

These are priorities VPSA advocates for through its Connect, Collaborate, and Care model. Together we can build a team of engaged physicians, create the best place to work, and provide the best patient care in the community and in the hospitals where we practice.

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