Take a Break to Boost Productivity

Narjust Duma, MD · Duma Lab


November 23, 2021

During medical training, I learned that positive reinforcement came to the ones that worked the most and the ones that left the hospital last.

We often wear our extended hours, lack of work and life integration, and burnout as honor badges. We often feel like better doctors if we work until our brains hurt and often forget to blink for hours while staring at a computer screen.

When deadlines were approaching, my sleep was often sacrificed, followed by my workouts, calls with my grandmother, and any healthy eating ("pizza goes well with grant writing," I used to say). These behaviors led to exhaustion, health issues, and a lack of anything that resembled a life outside of work.

In October 2020, I was diagnosed with COVID-19; I was surprised because I had not traveled or visited any place besides my house and work. I had not seen my family for months, and the last time I was in a grocery store was in March 2020. The circumstances of how I got COVID-19 probably belong in a different blog. The day after my diagnosis, I worked for 8 hours on an important presentation and, despite having a high fever, I answered all emails.

I did not rest and developed superimposed pneumonia; this took me out of work for over 8 weeks. I know that a large part of my illness was due to my failure to stop and rest. I learned that many things could have waited and that priorities should have been shifted. I learned that rest is essential for healing. I only started getting better when I asked for help from my colleagues and friends and began to rest.

Fast-forward 8 months and I was again dealing with a severe medical issue. This time it was thoracic outlet syndrome and an associated upper extremity deep vein thrombosis. I remembered the lessons learned from the year before, and I rested.

I learned from these two situations, but when I went back to work and was not facing a new medical issue, I once again forgot to rest. I found myself working every day of the week; it appeared that the lessons learned from my COVID-19 infection only applied when I was sick.

After realizing that I was going back to my old workaholic habits, I decided to rest. I started by taking one day off a week and noticed that I was productive, in a better mood, and willing to take over the world the following day. What was happening? The power of rest was the result of those productive days. I learned that I need to rest to be productive, and that it was necessary to learn how to deal with the guilt of not working every day. I had to schedule rest into my calendar and write it down on my to-do list. I am starting to consider rest as an essential part of my day and week. I am now more productive because I am resting.

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About Dr Narjust Duma
Narjust Duma, MD, is originally from Venezuela, born of a Colombian mother and Dominican father. She completed her internal medicine residency in Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Her clinical interests include the care of women with lung cancer, including their unique aspects of cancer survivorship. She is the principal investigator of the Sexual Health Assessment in Women with Lung Cancer (SHAWL) Study, the largest study to date evaluating sexual dysfunction in women with lung cancer. She also has opened the first clinic in the Midwest dedicated to women with lung cancer only.

Dr Duma is a leading researcher in gender and racial discrimination in medical education and medicine. She is the recipient of the 2018 Resident of the Year Award by the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Mayo Brothers Distinguished Fellowship award, and the 2020 Rising Star award by the LEAD national conference for women in hematology and oncology. Connect with her:
Twitter: @NarjustDumaMD
Instagram: narjustdumamd

The Duma Lab, formerly known as the Social Justice League, was founded in August 2019 and focuses on social justice issues in medicine, including discrimination and gender bias in academic and clinical medicine, cancer health disparities, and medical education.


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