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Balancing the Grind with Dr. Kieran Kennedy, Mental Health Advocate, Writer & Speaker

Dr. Kieran Kennedy is a mental health advocate, writer and speaker, currently completing his specialist training to become a psychiatrist.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Sure! I’m a medical doctor who’s nearing completion of my specialist training to become a psychiatrist. The interface between physical and mental health has always fascinated me, and it’s here that I’m completing my advanced training.

At the moment I’m working in Neuropsychiatry at a tertiary hospital in Melbourne, which includes work on inpatient medical wards, outpatient clinics and specialist assessment units. The bulk of my work at the moment thus involves seeing people who have both a neurological (or other physical health) disorder alongside mental health struggles.

I continue to work ‘on-call’ after hours at the moment too, so move through rotations of evening, weekend and night shifts where I might find myself helping those in crisis in the emergency department, doing assessments in the iCU or admitting patients to the inpatient psychiatric ward.

When it comes to my career background, I come from a bit of an odd mix of interests and passions. I’ve always loved biology and medicine (so wanted to be a doctor fairly early on), but alongside I’ve nursed an artistic streak in writing and speaking plus a passion for sport and fitness.

I thus first completed a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Physiology (which was a great way to combo my science and arts interests), and then moved on into a Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery to become a doctor.

From there, I’ve moved through my early internship years rotating through medical, surgical, psychiatric and emergency placements before entering my specialist psychiatric training.

The route to becoming a specialist is a fairly daunting one in medicine – at least 7 years from start to stop even after all those years at med school, and working heavy hours alongside completing assessments and studying for specialist examinations. I’m near on 6 months away from completing my specialist training, which is pretty exciting!

Alongside my more traditional career in medicine, I’ve juggled some further career aspects that really give me a lot of drive and passion. I’ve always loved being active, and fitness has become a real passion.

I’ve thus competed in national bodybuilding competitions and dabbled in a bit of fitness modelling alongside medicine. In recent years I’ve combined interests in medicine, writing and speaking toward health advocacy and work within the media – writing for publications like Men’s Health magazine and news outlets, as well as appearances on day time television to discuss important health topics and break down stigma around mental illness have become a key component to where I see my career going in the future.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My average day at work is usually a fairly ‘fly by the seat of the pants’ one! My clinical job at the hospital is often busy and demanding, and juggling my writing and media work alongside can get hectic.

I usually kick off my day with an early wake up so I can do a bit of writing, respond to media work and get some self cares (like daily meditation) in before the day begins. In the morning after arriving at the hospital I’ll often have some patients to review or new assessments to make on the medical/surgical wards, and then in the afternoon an outpatient clinic where I’m following up with patients who need ongoing review and support for their mental health.

Psychiatry (and work in medicine in general) is usually incredibly varied with no two days the same – I really love this about my job. Meeting new people and hearing their stories daily is always a massive privilege.

Between clinical work (i.e. during my lunch break) I’ll often be on the phone for media discussions or interviews, and/or finishing up written content on health advocacy/education for publications.

After work (pre-lock down!) I usually hit the gym for a weights session or do some form of exercise at home/in the park, then it’s to a bit of study, catching up on paper work and/or completing media related work during the evening before bed!

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

At the moment, my work is based on site at the hospital I work for. With regards to my hours and roster there’s not a lot of flexibility – but this is something i’m looking forward to having more wiggle room with when I complete my specialist training.

My actual time at work can offer some sense of flexibility – often with my current role I’m cruising around the wards and seeing patients at my own pace, and so can schedule my day fairly independently which is great.

Prior to COVID-19 related changes there wasn’t a whole lot of scope for remote work, however in recent months we’ve taken on much more telehealth work and the capacity to see patients remotely has grown hugely.

It can be a challenge at times to fit some of the constraints of my clinical work and long hours alongside my other goals and career interests – but at it’s core, medicine and work in psychiatry will always be my foundation so this always comes first.

I’ve learnt to work efficiently and schedule my time out for the day to military precision so find this helps with fitting all my work in, career goals and personal pursuits.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work life balance is incredibly important to me – both personally and professionally!

I often find myself talking to colleagues and patients about this, and from a purely academic perspective we know that having a sense of balance with work/life that works for you is incredibly important to our physical and mental health.

I’ve always been someone with a range of really varied interests and skills, so being able to balance these within my career but also in life outside of work is super important.

I love my work as a doctor, but also equally love exploring my other interests and passions – whether it’s fitness, writing, public speaking or media work I love that balance for me means combining all my interests into one big melting pot that makes my soul sing.

Keeping the importance of this in the forefront of my mind and acknowledging that I need to stay healthy with time for the things I love, the people I love and down time is the best way that I keep the balance afloat.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

It’s an ongoing learning curve I’m still moving through, and I don’t always get it right. Some weeks are super busy at the hospital so medical work takes priority – and at other times I’ll have a fitness event coming up or a lot of media work underway that means my energy/input needs to shift slightly the other way.

But I think this is one of the major lessons here (and with life in general) – it’s about staying open and adjusting our focus/energies to fit.

At it’s core I always ensure I put my medical work and patients first, but I find that being efficient and scheduling my time daily (and over the week) with both a paper notebook and my phone’s calander is how I ensure I stay on top of balancing work AND life.

Some habits I crack out daily (and would recommend) to align with success and health include daily meditation/mindfullness, some form of exercise daily and protected time for goals (like an hour each morning when I get up for my writing and media work).

I’ve also learnt more and more as things have gotten busier that learning to say “no” is an important skill. When we’ve got competing and at times conflicting demands on our time and energy, it’s vital to learn to say no or bypass some requests or opportunities so we’ve got time for life (and self care) alongside career.

I’m a natural people pleaser and love being busy, so being protective over my time isn’t always easy and is a skill I’m still learning!

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I’m a massive lit-nerd, and so books are often at the centre of my inspiration and ongoing motivation. It probably goes without saying that as I’ve moved through specialist training and my examinations core psychiatry text books have been some of my closest allies and where I’ve grown significantly in my knowledge around my work.

Books like Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker are examples of works that I get a clinical buzz from but also offer some really key insights into how I can live my life better and healthier.

I love all forms of inspiration and motivation when it comes to books so my shelf is pretty varied, everything from The Alchemist, to The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck and Marcus Areleus’ Meditations might be sprawled across my desk at any one time.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Exercise. For me, fitness and being active is more than just a pursuit related to some of the work I’ve done in bodybuilding or modelling.

Long before any of this, being active daily and working out became the lynch pin of my daily routine and how I keep myself feeling good mentally and physically during the demands of medical school and my life now as a doctor.

I find that when i make time daily for some form of exercise or activity I’m more grounded to tackle all the tasks in my day, I sleep better and I generally feel like I’m ready to take on anything the world throws at me.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Brene Brown is someone that’s really inspired me in recent years. Not only is her academic work and thoughts on psychology, life and health incredibly powerful but it looks like she really walks that talk.

I’m sure it’s not as easy as she makes it look (it never is), but the way she’s balanced her academic work, advocacy work, writing and family life is something I’d like to emulate one day.

I think it’s important that those working in the arenas of health and health education show that they’re just another person on that journey figuring it all out too – and Brene practices that ethos perfectly.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m a firm believer that consistency is king (as cliche as that is) in all areas of life. When it comes to work-life balance and juggling our goals and drives alongside a busy career and family life I firmly feel that it’s about making small steps daily in the faith that we’re moving forward.

Whether it’s a personal endeavour, a health goal, career progression or a side ‘hustle’ it’s easy to get caught in the trap of the “overnight success” mentality. In reality, rapid progress and ‘overnight’ change is more the exception than the rule.

I’m at times impatient and always have a lot of energy, so this is something I’ve actively worked on in recent years. Rather than feeling frustrated or dejected by slow progress or changes, I’ve come to realise that holding a clear goal in mind when it comes to our careers and work-life balance is key to putting in those small but incredibly powerful steps each day that (in the end) contribute to lasting and real success. It’ll happen, so keep chipping away each day.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.