Even in the best of times doctors are often sleep-deprived and overworked. But during the COVID-19 crisis that’s amplified more than ever, as physicians work longer hours and put their own lives at risk to treat infected patients. Many are also staying away from home to keep their families safe. All of which is to say, if there’s ever a good time to give doctors gifts, it’s right now. Doctors don’t so much need a flashy new pair of shoes as they could use a pair of well-cushioned sneakers 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. While most doctors told us the best gift is often just a sincere thank-you card, in case you’d like to give a little more than that, we’ve also assembled this mix of practical essentials, soothing items, and experiential gifts. (Click here for more information on how to help doctors and other frontline workers right now.)
Self-care gifts for doctors
While the personal protective equipment and face masks doctors wear is necessary for keeping them safe, it can also wreak havoc on their skin — as we learned when an emergency room doctor wrote in asking us for help. Gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal tells us he’s experienced similar issues. “I have been dealing with bruises and cuts now for weeks,” he says. Strategist writers Tembe Denton-Hurst and Rio Viera-Newton recommend this extremely soothing cream, which should work for Sonpal and any other doctors suffering from irritated skin.
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 family medicine physician. Shilpi Agarwal. Michelle Lee, a dentist in Manhattan, says this Kiehl’s cream is “the perfect moisturizer for our dry hands from lab work and glove wear.”
A gift set of pocket-size hand creams would also be a wise choice if you’re not sure exactly what scent they’ll prefer. You can’t go wrong with one of L’Occitane’s covetable shea butter 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 three-pack includes the brand’s original cream plus almond and lavender-scented versions.
For dealing with the mental and physical stress of being a doctor, Lee says yoga is a great way “to release tension and tightness in the upper body, as well as addressing lower body issues due to long periods of sitting or standing.” Whether they want to pop in a quick downward dog in between patients or take a full vinyasa class on a day off, give the doctor in your life this mat recommended by three yogis. “The Manduka mat is indulgent — it’s grippy, soft, and breaks in very well,” says instructor Kyle Miller.
Several doctors told us they loved receiving bottles of fine wine or liquor. “I’ve always felt that this was a thoughtful gift that showed appreciation for hard work,” says reproductive endocrinologist Thomas Molinaro. “I’ve been sent lots of bottles I would never buy for myself and found new things to enjoy.” Even though he’s not a big drinker, bariatric surgeon Daniel J. Rosen still likes being gifted a good bottle of booze, saying, “it makes me look like a superstar if I roll in with a bottle of Blue Label to a party.”
“It can be hard to find time to relax, but a good book can definitely be helpful when I am trying to unwind,” Molinaro says. “If there’s a book that a patient has found particularly entertaining or life-changing, I always appreciate the recommendation.” Books that have inspired him recently include the memoir of former Disney CEO Bob Iger — Molinaro says, “It’s a great example of how to be a great leader while still exhibiting kindness” — and Educated, which he describes as a “story of someone who excelled through hard work despite a very traumatic childhood.”
“I love to come home after a long day to something green,” says Navya Mysore, a primary care physician at One Medical. “Studies show that interacting with plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress.” A notoriously hard-to-kill snake plant (Rebecca Bullene, founder of Greenery NYC, once told us it’s “pretty much indestructible”) would fit with a doctor’s busy schedule.
A stressed doctor who wants to decompress will appreciate a soothing essential-oil set and a diffuser. Nada Milosavljevic, director of the Integrative Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, says they’re a “quick pick-me-up that are much appreciated during a long day at the clinic.” We wrote about this handsome ceramic diffuser in our gift guide for insomniacs, so it should do the trick of helping a frazzled doctor relax. With options like soothing lavender and energizing grapefruit, this oil set will give them everything they need to get started.
Note: The essential oils kit will ship on June 13.
Because sleeping during the day is a necessary evil for many doctors, 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.”
“Treats or sweets to be shared with the office staff is always a great break during long office hours and gets everyone in a good mood,” says plastic surgeon John Paul Tutela. Fellow plastic surgeon Gary Linkov agrees. When it comes to medical professionals, he says, “most of us love dessert … especially if it’s good chocolate.” Molinaro agrees: “Everyone deserves a little mid-afternoon chocolate.” Here at the Strategist office, we’ve been happily noshing on Tony’s Chocolonely bars so we suspect that this set, including flavors like dark chocolate pretzel toffee and milk chocolate honey almond nougat, will be a hit with any doctor and their staff.
When we wrote about gifts for dads with neck and back soreness according to chiropractors and physical therapists, all five of our experts mentioned this powerful, vibrating massager, with one calling it “the ultimate tool for working out sore areas or knots.” Lee tells us it’d also be an excellent gift for doctors because of the “awkward and strained postures in our profession.” Although it’s expensive, she says the tool ends up paying for itself: “I’ve saved a lot of money from getting biweekly massages just by having this machine.”
Caffeinating gifts for doctors
Given that doctors are known to work long hours and run on very little sleep, it’s not surprising that Christie Prendergast — a plastic and reconstructive surgeon — says anything coffee-related would always be appreciated. With lots of coffee shops closed due to stay-at-home orders, many doctors are now brewing on their own. Three doctors we spoke with are fans of this Nespresso machine for keeping the java coming. “It’s compact and effective for home and office use,” says Lee. Dentist Inna Chern of New York General Dentistry loves that “it comes with plenty of options from coffees to lattes in an array of flavors,” and gastroenterologist Austin Chiang agrees it’d make a good gift.
Mugs and tumblers came up a lot when we spoke to doctors, and while most agreed that anything that keeps their coffee hot will do, we’re partial to this reusable glass one that comes highly recommended by baristas. Joanna Lareau, a general manager and former barista at Blue Bottle Coffee says its small size and wide mouth is ideal for drinks like cappuccinos and cortados. “Some reusable cups are so big they don’t fit into the espresso machine and you can’t really pour into them well,” she says.
This temperature-control smart mug that keeps your drink at a chosen temperature between 120–145°F for up to an hour was one of the most popular gifts of last year’s holiday season, and it makes sense that doctors would love it, too. Aliza Rabin, a psychiatrist in New York, was gifted one and raves about it: “I love it because I am constantly being pulled away from my cup of coffee, but now I don’t have to worry about it.”
Work-related gifts for doctors
“Most doctors appreciate practical gifts. We do a lot of writing, even though most patients have electronic medical records,” says UCLA Health anesthesiologist Goldie Winge. “We can never have too many pens.” For a pen that feels like a true gift, and not just one you picked up at the drugstore, this Baron Fig rollerball came out on top in our ranking of the best 100 pens. We like how it “practically dances across the page.”
Chern also notes that “all health-care providers tend to write a lot.” She suggests a pen from Montblanc, “a great brand for beautiful writing instruments.” In our pen ranking, we called the Montblanc Meisterstuck “a luxury pen that looks and feels like one.” It’s an expensive choice, but it would be a fitting gift for a new med school grad to use throughout their career. As Rosen says, “doctors always need good pens. In fact, I use a pen a patient gave me years ago.
Help streamline their commute with a briefcase or messenger bag that has room for all of their work essentials. Chicago-based 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.”
“As a physician who does home visits in addition to office visits, I’ve always loved the classic black leather doctor’s bag that older physicians used to carry,” says Amna Husain, a pediatrician and founder of Pure Direct Pediatric. This bag from Tumi, one of Chern’s top picks for briefcases, is a modern and feminine take on the traditional doctor’s bag.
Like nurses, doctors spend a lot of time on their feet and have to deal with aching legs. “Compression socks are incredibly useful when you’re seeing patients or rounding for many hours during the day,” says Cherilyn Cecchini, a pediatrician in New York City, and a consulting physician for Your Doctors Online. She likes that they “help minimize swelling of your lower legs or ankles and encourage blood flow.”