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.
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.”
Along with compression socks, comfortable shoes are vital for doctors who can spend hours in the operating room or walking around a hospital. Danielle DonDiego, who practices family and obesity medicine in Atlanta and, like Cecchini, consults for Your Doctors Online, says “most hospital doctors wear sneakers if they wear scrubs, so foot support is important.” She likes APL sneakers (which we called the new status gym shoes), but says they “get worn quickly” due to her busy schedule, so a new pair is always appreciated.
“We can barely find time to do anything these days — like laundry,” says Sonpal, “so having a clean pair of scrubs is always great.” Cecchini agrees that “extra pairs of scrubs are definitely a useful gift for physicians. Figs, a new brand of stylish and functional scrubs for women and men, came up as a favorite among doctors and nurses, and Chern says she likes to wear the brand because their styles are “chic, fun, and comfortable.” Sonpal also likes the brand’s scrubs because “they are ridiculously soft, easy to clean, and honestly make us look good.” Chiang likes them, too.
Gadget gifts for doctors
“We work long hours and have very little time to sit,” says Sonpal. “Having a portable charger keeps our phones alive, keeps us connected to the world, and helps us communicate with colleagues about work-related matters, and in touch with our families.” He’s a fan of Anker PowerCore chargers, which are also very popular among Amazon reviewers. This one works for all USB-powered devices and can even power two units at once — helpful if a doctor relies on both a phone and a tablet during the day.
In the spirit of making life easier for doctors during this difficult time, Chiang suggests a Roomba robot vacuum, which he once received as a gift. One Amazon reviewer writes that this affordable model does a “WAY BETTER job” than a regular vacuum, and it will certainly save doctors precious time in keeping their homes clean.
Whether they use them to zone out and listen to music or block out background noise and get to work, nearly all of the doctors we spoke with said headphones or earbuds are a must-have. While there are lots of styles to choose from, Milosavljevic advises going wireless. “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,” she says. DonDiego tells us that, among the doctors she knows, the Beats Solo Pro noise-cancelling headphones “are definitely everyone’s favorite.” She breaks them out “when it’s time to crank out the paperwork.”
Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, relies on earbuds when he needs to focus. This year, he’s hoping to upgrade to Apple’s new AirPods Pro. “Not only are they better at blocking out background noise, but the microphone is improved, which should make dictating into the phone much easier,” he says.
Doctors who work long shifts, or those on call at odd hours, also use their earbuds to steal a moment of peace and quiet when they finally get a break. Indianapolis-based plastic surgeon Stanley Harper says that this truly wireless pair would be “the best gift for those doctors who work nights and need to sleep during the day. I use mine to listen to crashing waves which is relaxing.”
“Many surgeons listen to music in the operating room,” says New York plastic surgeon Melissa Doft, and she recommends a small, portable Bluetooth speaker that won’t be a distraction. Since the speaker sits far from the operating table, it doesn’t need to go through a full sterilization process, but she likes that this one is waterproof so she can easily wipe it down with alcohol. As for what tunes go best with wielding a scalpel, Doft tells us, “for a very delicate procedure, I like soft old school music like Frank Sinatra. For surgeries with a lot of sewing, I prefer something very modern and upbeat.”
Although they’ll be the first to espouse the benefits of exercise, busy doctors often don’t have time to work out. “With having so many things to do, exercise sometimes does not go to the top of my list,” says Amber Robbins, a family doctor located in Washington, D.C. and Your Doctors Online consultant. “Wearing a Fitbit helps keep me accountable. It also gives me motivation to increase the number of steps I have each day.” DonDiego agrees that “step tracking is a great tool for those busy days,” and she finds that her Fitbit is extremely accurate. Tech writer David Pogue calls this streamlined model the brand’s “best marriage of form and function yet.”
For a smartwatch with even more functionality, DonDiego likes all the features offered by the Apple watch, including the ability to quickly view messages without taking out her phone. “They also have great workout apps aside from tracking steps alone,” she says.
Experiential gifts for doctors
Family medicine doctor C. Nicole Swiner recommends subscription services that make doctors’ lives easier while they’re not at work. “These things can help doctors relax more when at home so they can rest up and continue working on your behalf for your health,” she says. As Michael Richardson, a family doctor at One Medical admits, “I’m losing the mental bandwidth to keep up with the routine necessities like grocery shopping,” so anything food-related can be a big help. Doctors living away from home, or any who are struggling to find time to cook healthy meals, could use a subscription to Sakara Life, a favorite of naturopathic doctor Kate Denniston. “They make everything plant based and organic with nutrition in mind,” she says. “It’s important that doctors are supported with nourishing foods to fuel them for long hours and critical decision making.” Sakara Life offers a variety of subscription options, or you can opt to donate meals (starting at $100 for 5 meals) to frontline workers at Los Angeles and New York City hospitals.
For an even easier way to feed doctors, family medicine doctor Colin Zhu suggests giving restaurant gift cards so they can order in — whether to their home or at the hospital. Help them support local restaurants with a Seamless gift card that’ll let them order from any of their favorite spots.
Like the rest of us, doctors are working out at home (or at the hospital if they can’t get a break), and it’s just as necessary for their mental health. “Working out really helps alleviate the mental and emotional stress doctors experience and that stress is heightened right now,” says Denniston. She suggests giving a subscription to Melissa Wood Health, which includes access to pilates-inspired workouts that don’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere. “The workouts are quick and efficient which makes them great to do between patient appointments or on your lunch break,” she says.
“Being a doctor can be a stressful job,” says Michael Chen, an internal medical physician with the cancer screening startup Ezra, and he suggests treating the doctor in your life to a meditation class. “Meditation has many benefits, including improving stress, insomnia and even blood pressure,” he says. With this gift card, they can access meditation, relaxation, and sleeping program on the Calm app from their phone, wherever they are.
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 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. Even if spas are closed right now, doctors will appreciate having this gift card waiting for them when things go back to normal.
Like spas, hair and nail salons might not be an option currently, but a gift card for a treat-yourself day in the future will give the doctor who likes to be pampered something to look forward to. “I love getting gifts that are things for me to do to treat myself. These include things like mani-pedis and DryBar blowouts,” says Agarwal.