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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #53

How do you make time for hobbies in a busy clinical career

Mat Daniel


Our careers are always busy, and finding time to do anything other than clinical practice can be tricky. But Natalie tells me that far from hobbies being something that takes time away from clinical work, hobbies actually give us energy that supports us in the clinical practice. There will never be enough time, so we need to make time. It doesn’t have to be many hours for a major new achievement, just doing something small is a start.

Natalie Lee is a junior doctor working in Sydney, Australia. She graduated from the University of New South Wales, where her passion for creativity in medicine was born. Natalie was classically trained in violin and piano, and is also a singer-songwriter, with her music available on numerous platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube. She loves bringing music and medicine together for de-stressing, teaching and having fun. Her original song “Short Sighted” won the International Sounds of Physiology Competition in 2021. As a doctor, she continues to produce music and perform, and aims to inspire others to pursue their creative goals despite the constant rush of work and life.

You can find her on youtubespotify, or instagram.

You can also watch our conversation on youtube.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name’s Mat Daniel and this podcast is about doctors’ careers. Today I’m interviewing Natalie Lee and we’re talking about how you can balance clinical work with hobbies. Now our careers are always busy and finding time to do anything Everything other than clinical practice can be tricky.

But Natalie tells me that far from hobbies being something that takes time away from clinical work, we should see hobbies as something that gives us energy, that supports us in our clinical practice. There will never be enough time to do everything that we want, so we have to make time. And it doesn’t have to be many hours for a major achievement, just doing something small is a start.

I hope that it’s useful.

Welcome Natalie, tell me a little bit about yourself.

[00:00:57] Natalie: Thank you very much for having me. So my name is Natalie. I’m a junior doctor. So first year at work, I’m based in the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. And on this side, I’m also a singer songwriter and I put music out on YouTube and Spotify.

[00:01:11] Mat: That sounds very exciting. And in fact, that’s the reason why I invited you to talk because I saw about your music and I thought, okay, what a great thing for a doctor to be doing all of that alongside their clinical career. What, why do hobbies matter in our lives?

[00:01:28] Natalie: I guess really, I’m only really new to medicine.

It’s only my first year of working. And already I found it very overwhelming. Often we feel like work is all that we do. I, there were certainly days where I woke up, went to work, then came home and then went to bed and then I felt like it was all just a cycle that kept repeating. So I feel hobbies are just so important in just keeping you sane, really giving you an outlook that there is something else other than work, something that makes you different, something makes you yourself, makes you happy and makes every day seem a little bit more bearable despite the stresses of work.

So I really think maintaining hobbies and making time really for them is important just to keep you whole as a person and managing all the pressures of work. And even if you don’t have time it’s good just to set aside something here and there, otherwise, life can get very monotonous.

[00:02:21] Mat: And if you look around at your colleagues, how do your colleagues manage to handle the stresses at work, do you think?

[00:02:28] Natalie: I think everyone does things in different ways. I think in general, the best thing I find is really debriefing with colleagues because you really understand what everyone’s going through.

Even if it’s in the corridor or having lunch breaks or meeting up after work to just talk about work and what’s on their mind. And then I also find other people just enjoy just going out and leaving work behind, not talking about it. And then whether it be sport, music going out with friends, that sort of thing.

That’s what other people do to manage with stresses and, all of that.

[00:02:59] Mat: And how do you fit music into your career and your life?

[00:03:03] Natalie: Yeah. In, I’ve, I guess music’s always been a big part of my life. I started learning when I was about four years old. It was almost like a classic Asian upbringing as some would say.

So I learned piano and violin. So since then I’d always been in orchestra as I was in the school band. I even, I learned the euphonium, which is a miniature tuba for several years. So I guess it was always used to. It was I was used to having it in my routine. Either practicing as an individual or in a group.

And then in university, I got into producing music and singing. And I found that was really great because I could do it at home. And when no one else was there, I didn’t need any, so it was really at my own pace. And then when work started it was really, You didn’t need, I didn’t need a lot of time, it was like, often it would even be like 15, half an hour where I would just sit down, get on the piano, open up some music, I’ll play some violin, or just, if I had some thoughts on my mind, I would just write them down and then convert them into a song.

[00:04:03] Mat: Okay, wow, so you, the thoughts that you have then that Influences what you write about.

[00:04:11] Natalie: Definitely. To me, music is a big, it’s a very like a cathartic therapeutic process for me. So if I have a lot of emotions that I’m feeling, I like to write things down and convert it into music. And that’s my way of expressing how I feel and getting it out.

[00:04:25] Mat: So does that mean that there’s different music that happens depending on what kind of a day you’re having at work?

[00:04:31] Natalie: Oh, absolutely. Yes when I’m feeling particularly moody, I can just put it into music. And of course if I’m feeling very down or unhappy, I don’t always put out that music, but it’s just, my own personal way of relieving My emotions.


[00:04:46] Mat: You put out happy music. So if you have a great day at work, does that translate into happy music or is it?

[00:04:51] Natalie: Yes. Yes. Yes. It does really just whatever I’m feeling. Yeah. Okay.

[00:04:57] Mat: So I’m interested, you talked about music that you do either by yourself or that you do with other people. What’s tell me a little bit more about the difference of doing stuff that’s just you at your own pace versus doing stuff that’s with other people.

[00:05:11] Natalie: okay. To start off with by myself that’s where I’m really like practicing things, putting music together. I feel like it’s a good way for me to just be, I feel like often at work, you’re always, bombarded with patients, your colleagues, you don’t, and it’s very busy all the time. So you don’t have that time to yourself.

So I find being with myself, with my music is just, like my me time. So I’ll just and I get very absorbed in my music. So time tends to go by very fast. Whereas when I’m in a group when I perform in miniature ensembles in orchestras I was in singing and a cappella group in university, and I found that’s just a really good way of connecting with like minded.

People who have the same creative interests who might be in medicine as well and just it’s really good at forming communities, forming friendships and just really just having a good time together.

[00:05:58] Mat: And how does being in an orchestra help with your teamwork in your clinical practice?

[00:06:04] Natalie: Oh definitely.

It’s. It’s a nice team environment without the, the high stakes and the pressures of the clinical environment. But orchestra is something that it’s really about you’re a part of a really big hole. And when you work together, it’s what you can create. It’s absolutely beautiful. So you’re aware that you’re important as an, as a player, as a part of the orchestra, but also you have to, you have the mindset of you’re part of a bigger picture.

It’s really good. I found at following a leader. So you have your conductor at the front, but at the same time you’re listening to everyone else around you. So you’re definitely you have to follow along everyone else. You have to adjust your volume, adjust your pitch and to and I just, I feel it’s good at so being in an orchestra has helped me really listen and accommodate to other people and learn from others as well.

So I’m not the best violinist, but I can see the ones who are at the front, the way that they play and I learn from them and try to follow along and become a bit better as well.

[00:07:06] Mat: It’s interesting. There’s a real, there’s a specific mindset. that I’m hearing you describe, partly the learning that you talked about, but also a mindset of teamwork, yeah, that, everybody comes together and that there’s a common purpose, there’s a bigger goal, and everybody works towards that.

And one of the things that I’ve been reflecting on recently, so I’m in UK and you’re in Australia, and I know that we’ve probably got slightly different healthcare systems, but in UK, the way that our work is structured the huge parts of teamwork for early career doctors have disappeared because people come in and they’re not part of stable team.

They’re always part of an ever changing team. So I’m wondering trying to link that to music. So presumably when you play for an orchestra, then it’s always the same people. Yes.

[00:07:56] Natalie: It depends. So currently I’m in the New South Wales, the doctor’s orchestra. We only had a couple of performances this year and each year you generally have the same familiar faces with some new people here and there.

Previously I was in like school or university orchestras where you’d get the same people and I guess you have that continuity but then each year you get new faces with people, new experiences. There are both aspects to that.

[00:08:19] Mat: So maybe if I think with that, with the orchestra at university, when every year there’s new faces, so how do those people become integrated into a team?

[00:08:29] Natalie: So I found that integrating into a team really depends on sometimes the people who are already there and how willing they are to take new people, show them the ropes and how welcoming they are. My experiences so far have been really lovely because usually you’re with. Similar, like-minded people who really want to get together.

And of course, in an orchestra, if you’re not nice to someone, you don’t work and then they don’t perform well, and then it falls apart. So I think it’s the responsibility of whoever’s already there. And just the culture of, taking in newbies.

[00:09:01] Mat: This is super relevant to medicine, isn’t it?

How we work in teams. Okay. You, you also said that you quite like doing music, when you play something by yourself. And that’s, that’s me time. Why do you need music to create me time? Can you not have me time without music or how does music make me time special for you?

[00:09:21] Natalie: So my me time is a range of different things, but for me, music is just something very special because I really love music. It’s. It’s just always been a part of my life. And I feel like it’s very powerful way of getting emotions out, getting thoughts and feelings down. And it’s also creating something that I can look back from later.

So in terms of like other people who are creating their blogs or photos and albums, music is like a diary or a journal for me. So it’s a record and it’s fun as well. So it’s, it really just ticks all the boxes for me time.

[00:09:55] Mat: Okay. So I, you very loudly and clearly make a case for the importance of music in your case, or maybe any other hobby for somebody else to have that alongside the clinical career.

I hope you’re enjoying the show. If you are, please click subscribe. So you will be notified when new episodes come out. This podcast is part of my mission to help doctors create successful and meaningful careers. You can be part of that mission too. by forwarding this show to any one person who you think might benefit from listening.

Thank you. Now on with the show. Let’s talk practicalities, how do you make it happen? Where do you find the time? How do you justify to yourself the time for music in amongst so many different time pressures that you’ll face?

[00:10:41] Natalie: Yeah, so absolutely. It’s very hard and some days I did feel like I didn’t have any time, but I guess I just defy having music as a way of letting go of things and increasing.

I guess if you were to think of things very like systematically or logically it would also increase my productivity at work because then my mind’s relaxed. I’ve had time to recharge. I’ve had time to be happy, regain a bit more energy. And then that gives me a more positive outlook and I can bring more energy to work the next day, for example.

It also gives my mind a bit of a break when I’m feeling like work is overwhelming or I can’t just stop thinking about what happened during the day. I just feel like it’s very worth the time that I put into it.

[00:11:23] Mat: So what I’m hearing then is that it’s actually The music in some ways, it’s not downtime, but it’s an investment into your clinical career because you know what you’re saying is that music helps you have more energy and a different mindset.

So it’s not a question of doing music instead of clinical career. It’s a question of doing music so that your clinical career will be better.

[00:11:46] Natalie: Yeah. When you put it that way, it sounds very nice because it does help. And then often, like before I started work, I was wondering, did I have to sacrifice music to be a good doctor or spend time and become, invest in all my patients and my work.

So I just found that balancing music and medicine really just. Benefits both ways. Yeah.

[00:12:07] Mat: And do you find sort of times where you come home and you think, Oh, I’m tired. I’ve got so much on. I’ve got exams. I’ve got a job application. When those kinds of thoughts come, how do you then make space for music when you have those kinds of thoughts?

[00:12:23] Natalie: to be honest, there were days where I didn’t have time for that just because I was very tired and I didn’t have the space for that. But then I do find that even if it’s a setting up. A particular time in a particular day was I just tell myself, this is where I drop things. And if it’s 10 minutes, I’m just going to go, don’t think about it, relax and let it go.

And if possible, I try to integrate music into whatever I’m learning as well. So I think how you found me was because on the on the creative Facebook doctor’s page, I posted a music video about the circle of Willis, which is a parody of the circle of life. So I found that was medically based and it allowed me to incorporate music and medicine together.

So it was. It’s hitting two birds at the same time. So I enjoyed that and I hope, other people can do similar things.

[00:13:10] Mat: Okay. So music, you’re using music to help you learn as well. Yes.

[00:13:14] Natalie: Absolutely.

[00:13:16] Mat: So I love how music and medicine, they come together and they relate. Cause I’m not hearing you say that there’s.

There’s part of my life, there’s music, and there’s another part of my life that’s medicine, and the two bits of me never come together. They’re two totally separate existences. Because what I’m hearing very much from you is that they are two things that are integrated, they come together, one supports the other.

[00:13:38] Natalie: Yes. I think because as a person music and medicine are both such big parts of my life that if I try to separate them, then it just wouldn’t work. So I just try to put them together and I find that they do complement each other really well. In fact, when I was in uni I was entered into a song writing competition as part of an international physiology tournament.

And I wrote a song about myopia or short sightedness. And that’s currently used in my university’s physiology curriculum to help people because I think it’s just so powerful. You have. Textbooks and lectures, which are of course very important. But then if you can hear a song or learn from it then, it’s fun at the same time.

[00:14:17] Mat: Absolutely. So you’re going to carry on doing that kind of medical music?

[00:14:22] Natalie: I hope so. It’s a little bit nerdy. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it and I hope some people can learn from it too.

[00:14:29] Mat: It sounds like it’s a niche, Natalie. I’m not sure that anybody else is doing that. So maybe, you’re going to have the whole market.

[00:14:40] Natalie: It’s a very very specific market.

[00:14:44] Mat: Absolutely. If I look at other people, then, sometimes when I talk to doctors of kind of all levels they become. Overwhelmed and the stresses of medicine and the stresses of work that, that becomes all-consuming and it takes over people’s lives and often so the people lose touch with the hobbies, you’re lucky because you know that you enjoy music.

It’s always been with you and you’ve kept it but a lot of the stories that I hear is that that, people perhaps they just exist. They go to work and nothing else. And they struggle with the kind of balance that that you might have. I don’t know what would be, what would you say to a doctor that, that is just consumed by the stresses of work that, that doesn’t have anything else going on?

What tips would you give to somebody like that?

[00:15:28] Natalie: I guess my tips would be just find something that makes you happy or something that gives you a bit of peace in life and it doesn’t have to be something, very big or fantastic. It’s just something that gives you a bit of a break outside work, whether it be, going out for a coffee or reading a book or watching a movie and just find or just try different things, whatever works for you.

Some people will have different interests. Try to find something that you enjoy and make time. It’s not about having time, but setting aside a time and forcing yourself, this is where I spend time to find something that makes me happy.

[00:16:04] Mat: So tell me a bit more about the idea of having time versus making time.

Because people always say I haven’t got the time, you’re saying no, don’t worry about having time, make time. What’s the difference between having time and making time?

[00:16:17] Natalie: Yeah, so I guess it’s something that I’ve also had when people giving me advice, starting out as a doctor it’s because you often find that if you let things happen, if you let life happen, work happen, then it will always, you’ll just be caught up in things.

There’s always more work you can do. You can always check up on something again. So If unless you are very, you set aside a specific amount of time, I know some people are very good at routine. So at a particular time they get up, they do this. Or some people more go with the flow. If you.

I feel like unless you give yourself a bit of time during the day where you allow yourself to get away from work you wouldn’t otherwise get that chance. So whether it be trying to be a bit more productive and finishing work at a certain time, or whether you just let things settle for a bit and then getting or waking up a bit early, it’s really just setting aside.

a bit of time. Doesn’t have to be much but I think that’s really important.

[00:17:11] Mat: And I guess because music’s always been part of your life, so you presumably, you always made life for music, despite your busy university and school beforehand. So if somebody is listening and they haven’t had the habits that you’ve built up, because this is a habit you built up over years, isn’t it?

Yeah. Making time for music, but somebody else who hasn’t built up a habit like that. And they are thinking, Oh gosh, it’s all too much. What why should I work hard to make time for something else? What would be your advice for somebody who says, why should I make the time for all of these things?

[00:17:44] Natalie: I guess my advice would be, you don’t have to find time or make time straight away. It can be just little steps. And I find that if I have a goal to work towards, say, this is where I get to have music time, then it gives me a bit of an incentive, something to look forward to. So then I work through things a little bit faster so that I can get there.

And then after that time, I do feel that what I talked about being re-energized and feeling, recharged to keep doing work. So I think whatever time you set aside does pay back.

[00:18:14] Mat: Yeah, so something to look forward to and then also doing activities that energize you. And you said that you don’t have to try and do something massive, you can just do some small steps.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the idea of just doing some small steps?

[00:18:30] Natalie: Yeah, so even if I find after work lately or what I’ve really enjoyed is when it’s not so hot, because I’m in the middle of an Australian summer I like to just take my dog out for a walk and I find even the half an hour, 40 minutes of outside breathing fresh air, seeing the sun, seeing other people who exist outside living their lives with their families.

I think that’s a little thing that makes me happy and it makes me feel like I’m reconnecting with the world and nature and all of that. So I also feel a lot of people feel pressure to. They’re to do something amazing. So some people get quite anxious when asked, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

Because I don’t feel like they have something amazing. They’re not, like scuba diving. They’re not, creating, masterpieces. So I think you don’t have to do that. It’s everyone’s, themselves. They can just do whatever little things.

[00:19:20] Mat: And let me bring us to a close. And maybe if I can ask you, what would be your top tips for doctors at work?

[00:19:27] Natalie: So my top tips would remember that you are a person as well as a doctor. You can be a fantastic doctor, but do whatever makes you and something I tell myself to motivate myself is if you’ve had the thought of something, if you’ve dared to dream or entertain the idea of doing something, then really the only person in your way, if it’s, realistic or feasible is yourself and you just have to make it happen because you really only, you only live once. And I think it’s far better to go ahead and try something than to never try it all. I love that. Thank

[00:20:00] Mat: you very much,

[00:20:01] Natalie: Natalie. Thank you.

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