As a medical doctor, every treatment prescribed or surgery performed carries high stakes for each patient. It can impact their quality of life in significant ways, or literally mean life or death. But the culture of silence in medicine makes it difficult to talk about the unique responsibilities and stresses associated with being a physician.
Dr. Nina Ahuja wrote Stress in Medicine to challenge this culture of silence.
Dr. Ahuja offers a unique glimpse into the world of medicine, sharing personal stories from her own journey that are heartfelt and touching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Woven throughout her experiences and observations, Dr. Ahuja’s innovative approach to mental and emotional clarity shines through — a practical approach that can lower the stress level of any situation and sharpen your mind when you need it most.
I recently caught up with Dr. Ahuja to learn what inspired her to write the book, her favorite idea she shares with readers, and how that idea has impacted her life and work.
What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?
Medical school was one of the most challenging periods in my life, so I’ve always had a soft spot for medical students and residents. When COVID-19 happened, as a senior leader in our academic department, I was very aware of the stresses that not only medical students and residents were facing, but also physicians and surgeons in practice.
The shutdowns resulted in disrupted streams in medical and residency education, and many in practice were impacted by closures of elective medical and surgical services. This in turn impacted wait lists and wait times for patients, as well as medical and residency teaching at academic centers. During our many executive meetings I learned that many physicians and surgeons were personally struggling with the closures, not knowing what to do with themselves since their world revolved around being a doctor.
With my practice being impacted by the closures, I often took long walks and began reflecting on my own experiences over the years. I found that many were reflected in what I had been hearing at various meetings, as well as the experiences shared in various blogs that were being posted by medical students, residents and physicians.
It was during one of these early morning walks when I was thinking about things, that I realized that the challenges I experienced needed to be shared. With the challenges of COVID-19 compounding the usual stresses we face, I felt it was important to talk about the issue in a way that was relatable, accessible and hopefully helpful to others experiencing significant stress.
What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?
When I first decided to write this book and began to reflect more on my own stressful periods, I realized that challenges I faced could be categorized into five phases of experience. This realization led me to create my ADMIT framework which summarizes strategies I’ve learned to manage my own stress over the years. The book explores each of these phases — Adapting to New Ways, Doing the Work, Measuring Success, Introspection, and Transformation — along with common challenges we face within each phase from a psychological perspective.
The goal of the framework is to offer a constructive tool to help readers assess their own responses to stressful situations, and to learn how to conquer them more effectively. Since stressful experiences often have multiple factors that contribute to them, the benefit of the framework is that it offers an organized way to detangle the jumble of emotions we often feel in these moments. If we’re able to consider what we’re experiencing with some structure, stressful moments can feel more manageable. The ADMIT framework therefore offers an approach to stress that can help readers feel more empowered in challenging circumstances.
What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?
Through personal stories and insights, I actually share a number of examples within the book, on how I have applied elements of this framework in various contexts. Having said that, an additional example I can share is how I decided to present the content of my book before I even began writing it. Many books written by academics are anchored in formal scientific and clinical research. However, as readers will learn when they read Stress in Medicine, my book is part memoir and part self-improvement. It draws on many psychological concepts and is anchored in personal engagement, with the intention of creating a work that was still informative though less academic, and more of a helpful resource in stressful times. This decision was intentional and challenged me to think in new ways. It changed my approach in how I prepared for writing the book, the tone of my writing, and also how I would measure the book’s success.
After long periods of active reflection and introspection, I successfully transformed my mindset and produced a work that is accessible, relatable and relevant to all readers. And if it serves to help even one person better manage their stress, my book will have achieved success.