Things they didn’t teach in medical school: Part 32 Coping with repetition, dealing with boredom

Medicine is an occupation that can provide enormously satisfying intellectual and creative challenges. But like any job where there are repetitive tasks it can have it’s boring moments. Becoming a specialist requires that one become expert through constant practice and repetition yet once mastery is achieved the continued day to day repetition can start to be frustrating. You might find yourself having the same conversations over again or performing tasks on auto-pilot. The problem with this is it can lead to laziness and mistakes, especially if boredom is combined with tiredness or is a symptom of burnout.

There are different ways to combat boredom. One of the reasons people get bored is a lack of challenges. I always know that my trainees are happy to become consultants and not to general overtime because they will no longer get called to see ‘chest pain’, well at least not as regularly. They’ve reached the point where this diagnostic task is no longer interesting – they need new challenges. So creating new challenges is a way of getting out of a rut. This might take the form of trying to improve your own performance – the perfectionist approach.

Another way to alleviate the boredom is the theme and variations approach. By this approach you do something routine in a different way…this can be just mixing up the way you explain something or you can consider it an experiment to find the best way.

The obvious way to deal with the non-creative tasks is to create opportunities for creativity. I’ll call this the portfolio approach. Many clinicians I know regard their clinical jobs as their bread and butter and they get broader satisfaction from their other roles such as researcher, teacher or even administrator. These other roles act as distractors and relief from the day job.

There are, of course, other ways, to deal with the boredom – regular breaks and holidays, learning new skills, and getting your work life balance right….and of course looking out for the next interesting patient problem to give you that ‘why I got into this in the first place’ feeling.

PS. my joke to my inpatients is that the commonest reason people die in hospital is boredom….don’t let boredom kill your career

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