If you’re buying a gift for a doctor, some basic knowledge of a typical physician’s schedule (they’re often sleep-deprived, stressed for time, and overworked) offers some clues. Doctors don’t so much need a flashy new pair of shoes as they could use ways to stay comfortable and efficient at work, and ways to decompress when they leave. For some specific gift ideas, we consulted a range of practitioners — from ER professionals to family doctors to medical directors — about the most thoughtful gifts they’ve ever received and what they would recommend as presents for colleagues. Below, 25 soothing items, sleep aides, and experiential gifts that a doctor might actually appreciate.
One pen we like and recommend is this Japanese Midori brass ballpoint pen, which at 3.5 inches long is small enough to fit into the pocket of any lab coat or scrubs. It’s also more elegant to give as a gift with its polished gold finish, which is why writer Mark Byrne described it as a “rare, even extraordinary, combination — both very good-looking and small.”
During breaks, a pair of headphones can come in handy for blocking out the chaos of a busy hospital or doctor’s office. Nada Milosavljevic — director of the Integrative Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital — prefers wireless headphones to listen to calming music during a long day. “Since physicians are moving around (wearing a lab coat, scrubs, stethoscope, etc.), it’s easier not to be directly connected to the phone and get tangled up.”
David Greuner, head surgeon and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates, agrees that wireless headphones are a great gift even beyond the office. He recently received a pair of Bose SoundSport headphones, which he describes as “perfect for my active lifestyle,” and well-suited for running and cycling.
Noise-canceling headphones that block out noise completely could be an even better option for a stressed-out, overstimulated doctor. These Cowin headphones that we’ve written about before are wireless, but they’re fitted with cushy leather over the ears, and deliver crisp surround-sound quality.
Because doctors are constantly washing and Purell-ing their hands in between shifts, a rich hand cream would help rehydrate rough hands. “Nice lotion is super helpful because I wash my hands and use alcohol sanitizer a million times a day,” says Shilpi Agarwal, a board-certified family doctor. She’s obsessed with this NaturaBrasil castanha hand cream (I’m also a fan because they’re so fragrant and creamy) and recommends it to all of her colleagues, but also loves a good Laura Mercier hand cream.
A gift set of pocket-size hand creams would also be a wise choice if you’re not sure exactly what scent to choose. You can’t go wrong with one of L’Occitane’s covetable hand creams, which are a favorite of Nieca Goldberg – medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health – for their rich consistency. This set has a trio of L’Occitane’s best-selling scents: Cherry Blossom, the floral Joyeuses Fetes, and its staple Shea Butter hand cream.
A Water Bottle
“Another great gift idea are water bottles. This encourages us to stay hydrated and keep track of our daily fluid intake,” says Winge. A perennial Strat favorite is this vacuum-sealed Zojirushi water bottle, which can easily store hot tea or an iced beverage. This one in matte gold would make an elegant gift option.
Help streamline their commute with a briefcase or messenger bag that has room for all of their work essentials. Emergency medicine specialist Jeremy Rothfeld says that one of the best gifts he’s ever received is one of Bosca’s leather briefcases. He’s been wearing it since his residency and loves its roomy compartments and professional look. “And I carry a lot of things — my journal for notes, my stethoscope, my hospital pass, power bars, personal belongings, and more.”
For a female doctor, this leather work bag is a similar but feminine take on a briefcase, with sections for a laptop, file folders, lunch bag, and odds and ends.
Doctors’ offices are notoriously bland, so another option is to help spruce up their work space with some décor. “Another cool idea is getting doctors some body-related artwork,” says Dana Corriel, internist and director of quality at Highland Medical. “It’s personal, and we can use it to decorate office space in a unique way.” This anatomical art is “medical” without looking too clinical — and it’s nice that it would add color to any drab office wall.
“Given doctors’ busy schedules, high stress, and minimal downtime, physicians appreciate health options like herbal teas to help them replenish, decompress, and recharge,” says Milosavljevic. This collection of mini-teas from Teapigs should do the trick, and it’s more accessible with a range of teas for the picky tea sipper, in bags, rather than loose-leaf bundles.
For the early riser working a graveyard shift, Christie Prendergast — a plastic and reconstructive surgeon — says anything coffee-related would always be appreciated. This French press slash brewer was described by writer Maxine Builder as “a great gift for a coffee lover on the go,” and she notes that since you’re drinking coffee and brewing in the same vessel, you’re saving on dish washing.
Because sleeping during the day is a necessary evil for emergency physicians, emergency medicine physician Wallace Blake McKinney suggests this NodPod weighted eye pillow to nod off faster. “The weight is just right and it stays in place — lets me get comfortable on my side, too. I like that I can throw it in the washer and dryer. Definitely giving this as a gift to friends who could use help getting to sleep.”
Someone who wants to decompress at the clinic will appreciate a soothing essential-oil set and a diffuser. Milosavljevic says the’re a “quick pick-me-up that are much appreciated during a long day at the clinic.” This minimal diffuser wouldn’t look too flashy in a doctor’s office.
One of the most common suggestions among my experts was a thoughtful card. Pediatrician Lisa Lewis says, “Many appreciate not the most expensive gift, but a thoughtful gift. Physicians, and those who work long hours, like to know that their loved ones and friends are close by in heart. A handmade card or photo in a frame can be prominently displayed in the clinic to bring a smile to the doctor’s face.”
Nearly every doctor I spoke to said that they were most interested in experiences and quality time over physical presents — anything that would help them step back from their busy day jobs and focus on themselves. “Physicians have such a busy schedule, and we see patients nonstop. Because the work is so engrossing, there is little or no time left for myself,” says Tania Elliott, a New York City allergist.
She says “an immersion trip like a National Geographic expedition would be epic” and well-suited for a physician who loves to learn, but added that she would settle for a monthly subscription to National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Soothing massages and facials are another popular gift idea among physicians who work around-the-clock. Jennifer Haythe, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia, says she loves getting in some necessary R&R as a working mom. Prendergast adds that spa days are an especially thoughtful choice for surgeons who are on their feet and working with their hands constantly.
And in the realm of useful experiences, Corriel suggests a class that would allow for some quality face time. “My friends bought me a class on flower arranging a few years back, and I loved it. These are the kinds of gifts that stay with you forever.” Classes and workshops can obviously be tailored to a person’s tastes, though, whether they prefer making art, learning a new skill, or going on a food tour.
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