Sleep deprivation in medicine is part of the deal, but why is it?

Dr. Laura Vater (@doclauravater) shares her experiences and the experiences of others that have dealt with the grueling reality of sleep deprivation and working within a culture that rewards sleep deprived residents and trainees. She discusses the dangers she has personally faced, the mental health struggles associated with sleep deprivation, and what it will take to create a healthier system that promotes the health and well-being of practitioners.

Laura Vater, MD, MPH is a Hematology Oncology Fellow at Indiana University. Throughout her career, Laura has remained interested in preventive health, humanism in medicine, and promotion of clinician health. 

 In 2017, she developed a tool to help patients and clinicians simplify and prioritize health (the SMILE Scale). This tool is being used in schools and clinics in the US and UK. 

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My Favorite Takeaways From This Episode:

-The fight that residents and physicians, along with other healthcare workers are fighting against is sleep deprivation

-The history of this gruesome sleep deprivation schedule in medicine

-The damage that fragmented sleep has on our health, including increased risk for mortality, suicide, depression, and morbidity 

-The damage of sleep deprivation also on patient care

– Laura’s experience being on home call while having regular clinic duties the next day and how she advocated for herself. She describes how she was in a position to write an email to her attending

-Practical tips around how to best maintain your health during stretches of sleep deprivation

-Integrating the Smile Scale in a practical way

dr laura vater Erika del Pozo MOT, OTR/L Joy Energy Time MedBridge Burnout Burnt Out to Lit Up Podcast

My Favorite Quotes From Dr. Laura:

“So since kind of the beginning, 400 years or more, sleep deprivation has just been part of the culture where residents and fellows have been expected to work, you know, 24,28,36 hour shifts, and just do so without any rest at all, and just continue to perform patient care, and somehow maintain their own physical and mental health.”

“And the fatigue is really compounding, especially when you’re at the end of the month or you’re going into another rotation where your sleep is fragmented.”

“And you know, I had this really difficult call last year where I was I was sleeping in a hotel to try to avoid commuting home. I was going trying to go to sleep as soon as I was done with my clinical activities midday so it was like 6pm and I got two hours of fragmented sleep the whole night and then work the next day. And by four days of this I was so mentally and physically exhausted. Did that I was just at the end of my rope. And I said this, you know, this is not okay, this is not protecting my health there are, there are reports of people dying, of being awake for, you know, five or six days straight.”

“And I think that’s my biggest concern really, is that we should not as trainees have to advocate for sleep, because sleep is a basic human right. It’s a basic human need.”

“And so things that have really helped me are just to accept I lay in bed and I kind of just close my eyes and I just have this kind of deep breath almost meditation of acceptance. If I get paged in two minutes, I accept that if I get a little bit of sleep, I accept that whatever is to come, I accept that. And I think that honestly helps me to fall into sleep, even if it’s a light sleep more than just lying there and anxious and worried.”

dr laura vater Erika del Pozo MOT, OTR/L Joy Energy Time MedBridge Burnout Burnt Out to Lit Up Podcast

This Episode is Brought To You By:

Meet Your Host

Hola! I’m Erika, an occupational therapist from Miami, FL and founder of Joy Energy Time. Get to know me and hang out with me by listening to my pod, the Burnt Out to Lit Up Podcast! ✨

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