Gifts for Medical Students, Residents, Physicians, and Anyone Else with a Stressful Job

The Gift of More Free Time

The everyday needs of a household can become oppressive if you are working 80 hours a week. And, because bathrooms need to be cleaned, and floors need to be vacuumed, this is time that takes away from downtime needed to recover from hard work.

Here’s a list of things that just about every healer or healer in training would appreciate to help free up time:

  • A cleaning service. Hire someone to do a “deep clean” of their home once a month. Look on the internet for bonded cleaning services or call people who might know the best companies.
  • Car washes. Who doesn’t love a clean car…. and who has the time to wash and vacuum their car?
  • Roomba vacuum cleaner. One task taken care of!
  • Someone else to cook meals (see below!)

The Gift of Nourishing Food

  • Instant Pot. The number one time saving kitchen appliance for busy people is the Instant Pot. My Instant Pot has fundamentally changed the way I cook – and has made it easier to eat well.
  • Air Fryer. I’m a new convert to air fryers. 15 minutes to get wonderful roasted or air fried veggies is amazing! There is now an Instant Pot with an air fryer built in – a great option for a gift!
  • Gift certificates for food. Do a little sleuthing and find a healthy grocery store near where they live. Other ideas might be a smoothie or juice shop, their favorite restaurant(s), or coffee shops
  • Prepared meals. Most cities have small, local companies that deliver prepared meals to your door. They usually offer gift certificates which is probably the best plan to give flexibility between a subscription or a la carte ordering.
  • Home cooked meals. If you live near, think about cooking a batch of favorite food(s) and putting them in single serving containers to freeze. You might also want to create a certificate for your personal “cookie/meal/soup of the month club” with a promise to deliver food once a month.
  • A Good Cookbook. Mark Bittman’s cookbooks are all wonderful, but How to Cook Everything Fast is a particularly good choice for busy people.
  • Vitamix. It may seem expensive for a “blender”… but this is much more than a blender. These are the blenders you see in professional smoothie stores. Smoothies become a lifesaver for busy healers. (The Vitamix also makes great soups, sauces, etc…..)

The Gift of Good Beverages

  • Insulated Coffee Mug. Rounds in the morning often starts with “running the list” around a computer, often at “dark thirty” when the rest of the world is just thinking about getting up. Having good coffee or tea from home or a local shop that stays warm for several hours is such a pleasure. The mug of choice for just about everyone I know is a 10 or 16 oz Yeti tumbler.
  • Water Bottle. No one drinks enough water at work in the hospital (and we all agree on this). Again, having a great water bottle that you can fill in the morning with ice water (and a slice of lemon if you like) makes the day better.
  • Nespresso (or other) coffee maker. If you are a coffee drinker, a good coffee maker is key. Nespresso is my personal favorite, but be creative and look at all the options!
  • Good coffee (or tea). There are local roasters in most cities, so rather than support the big chains, look for them and consider a gift of coffee.

The Gift of Music

For those who find solace and joy in good music (and isn’t that just about all of us?):

  • A good Bluetooth speaker for their home or study space. I love the Klipsch The One II speaker I have at home, but I’m sure there are other equivalent speakers, including some that aren’t as expensive.
  • Air pods or noise cancelling headphones
  • A subscription to one of the many streaming music services like Spotify or Apple Music.
  • Tickets to the symphony, ballet, jazz performances, or opera in the city where they live.

The Gift of Good Sleep

  • Good mattress, pillows, sheets. How we sleep determines how well we function the next day, particularly in high stress jobs. Is it time for a new mattress? Is there a better mattress that might help? High quality sheets are usually a welcome gift, too.
  • Light blocking curtains or shades. Post-call sleep is during the day and sunlight can interfere with sleep. Special curtains or shades to block the sun really help.
  • A Weighted Blanket.
  • Nothing Much Happens. This is a free podcast with the subtitle of “Bedtime stories for adults”. Since it’s a present, think about supporting this wonderful series with the very cheap subscription (which means you get the stories without ads.)

The Gift of Healthy (and not aching) Feet

Working in the hospital means a lot of time on your feet. John Wooden, probably the most famous basketball coach of all time, spent the first week of training every year teaching his players how to put on their socks…. because he recognized that if you didn’t pay attention to your feet, it would affect your game. The same is true in medicine.

  • Comfortable shoes for the hospital which can be thrown  into a washing machine. High on the list are Atoms, AllBirds, and Merrells. I have shoes from all three companies and so, for some one like me (a surgeon) who walks and stands a lot, I can recommend these specific shoes! Atoms Sneaker, Allbirds Tree Runners, Merrell Encore Breeze, Merrell Antora 2 Rainbow,
  • Good socks. Don’t go for cute, go for high quality, well padded, and functional.
  • Compression socks. There is some debate about whether compression socks can really prevent varicose veins, but there is no debate that your feet feel better at the end of a long day when you wear them!
  • Pedicures. Lots of women (and some men!)  have learned the joy of a professional pedicure for tired feet. Don’t underestimate the power of a gift certificate for  pedicures. But, as an alternative, put together a kit for home pedicures.

The Gift of Fitness

This might not apply to everyone, but most people who work hard know that they feel better if they exercise a little every day. But – a word of caution – tread lightly with fitness gifts since they can be misinterpreted as conveying a “need” to exercise.

  • A bicycle. For many people a good bicycle can make it easy to add some exercise by commuting to work by biking instead of driving. Regardless, it’s a great way to get some exercise outside. If they have a bike they use to commute, you might think of some ways to make it easier such as
  • A gym membership. You may have to do a little detective work to find the right gym that is close to where they live, but it’s worth it.
  • New shoes. Runners are supposed to get new shoes every year or so. Give them a gift certificate from a running store near them, if there is one. Or, be creative and put cash in a tiny toy shoes and wrap them in a shoe box.
  • Fitness equipment for home. Resistance training is important for all of us, regardless of gender or age. Although a bench and weights are part of the classic home gym, they take up a lot of room (and weigh a lot!). I’m a big fan of the TRX system, which makes a great present. Since it has become almost a cult among physicians during the pandemic, I have to at least mention Peleton as another potential fitness gift for healers and healers in training.

The Gift of Calm

Massage and/or Spa Services. This, too, may take a little effort to find the right place, but this is a wonderful gift for stressed people.

Headspace. This might seem a little unusual as a gift idea, but I can’t recommend it enough. Meditation is discussed in most medical schools and hospitals as a tool to gain insight and recover from the depletion that is part of the work we do. The best way I’ve found to learn this practice, and then stick with it is Headspace, which is a great app. The first 10 lessons are free, but for a gift, go ahead and get the annual subscription.

The Gift of Time and Stories

Human beings heal their hearts and souls by telling stories. Although there are many stories your loved one can’t tell you (at least not the specifics) you can totally ask how what they are seeing and doing is making them feel. Set aside some time for a coffee or another beverage and ask – with intention – “How are you doing?” And then just listen. Don’t try to “fix” anything … just listen.

Along the same lines, think about a letter… yes, a handwritten letter or note. Maybe a long one for a specific holiday or birthday, maybe a series of shorter ones through the year. Imagine how you would feel after a particularly hard week if you had a letter to reread that talked about how proud someone was of you, filled with funny stories and words of support.

Beepers and Pagers and Phones… Oh, my!

I was looking at my beeper then other day and realized it looks exactly like beepers looked 25 years ago.   Think about it.

Here is what mobile phones looked like 25 years ago…

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 Who invented beepers?

There are some conflicting stories about who invented the first “beeper” (because they only made a noise)

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“More than 20 million people in the United States today are connected by an invisible, ubiquitous wireless link, originally developed in 1949 by a hospitalized radio engineer. Charles F. Neergard was annoyed by the constant, loud voice paging of doctors on his hospital floor, and reasoned that there must be a way to quietly inform only the intended recipient that a message was waiting. The first commercial pagers were deployed in St. Thomas Hospital in London England and were the approximate size and weight of today’s two D-cell Mag-light.”  from llinoissignal.com

“In 1921, the first pager-like system was in use by the Detroit Police Department. However, it was not until 1949 that the very first telephone pager was patented. The inventor’s name was Al Gross and his pagers were first used in New York City’s Jewish Hospital. Al Gross’ pager was not a consumer device available to everyone. The FCC did not approve the pager for public use until 1958.”  from inventors.about.com

Timeline of history of the pager

In the era of nothing but landlines, pagers were necessary to contact people who were moving around. Which leads to the next obvious question:

Why do we still have pagers in medicine?

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Most physicians preferentially use texting as a method to communicate with each other (when we can).  But, we all still have pagers, too.  There are several reasons:

1) You can turn off a pager (when you aren’t working).  It’s harder to turn off your cell phone.

2) Pagers don’t interfere with medical equipment.  (Unlike some cell phones).  (Although there are some who feel that the benefit of improved communication outweighs the potential risk of interference. )

3) Pagers work in the basement and in steel reinforced buildings (like hospitals), places that limit cell phone reception

4) You can dial one number to reach a group of people (important for codes, etc)

5) The battery life is much better than a cell phone

6)  In a disaster situation (like a hurricane) pagers still work when cell phones don’t

Where are the new solutions?

There are systems now that allow you to use special mobile phones within the walls of the hospital.  Some systems, like Spectralink, use proprietary phones that work only within the hospital.  Others, like Vocera, use software to allow the use of iPhones for the same purpose.  Apple has acquired a patent for a similar system which suggests they may be working on new technology.

Making a new product for the almost 1,000,000 physicians in the United States would seem to be a market big enough to warrant some creative ideas!  How about the most obvious one – Why can’t the full function of a pager be added to a cell phone? 

Any engineers and/or entrepreneurs looking for a new product to develop?

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Wellness for Emergency Room Residents

I came across this lecture by Lily C. Conrad, MD PhD FACEP on Wellness for Emergency Room Residents and thought I’d share it.  It’s a good review and makes some interesting points.  She raises issues applicable to all residents as well as more specific issues for residents in Emergency Medicine.

The concept of renewal is critical:

  • A single-minded devotion to career is impoverishing
  • By neglecting restorative activities physicians tend to lose their emotional resilience
  • We need to establish time for rest, revitalization, exploration and emotional and well as intellectual growth

Link to the lecture – Wellness for Emergency Room Residents