We all know the ongoing research of burnout is growing and expanding. Yet what the researchers are NOT talking about in their research (and frankly missing the boat on) is the deeply multifactorial and complex nature of what leads to physician burnout. Furthermore, they are not truly looking at the root causes, but rather what they see is the obvious contributor. When looking at what leads to physician burnout (and particularly burnout in Dr. Mommies) one of the major issues that is overlooked is values.
I often speak openly about my brush with suicide when I was in residency as a result of burnout. What I later came to realize (particularly after my second burnout experience) was that what I was doing was not aligned with what was important to me. More simply put, my head was not in sync with my heart. Here I was wanting to be able to more deeply connect with my patients. I desired to sit with them, get to know what was really underneath their struggle to adhere to treatments; or what was causing them stress. I wanted to spend the time to really teach them how to make healthy meal preparation easier and tastier; I wanted to dispel their myths of how hard lifestyle change would be for them. In short, I wanted to really empower my patients. And I simply could not do that in the time, nor the circumstances I was given. So, I just did what was required of me, ignoring the very core of why I went into medicine. Soon, I felt like I was just shuttling them through. I wasn’t making a difference. And if this was what medicine in the “real world” was going to look like, I’m NOT in it for the long haul. Yet, I didn’t know what else there was to do. This was my only calling. This was the start of the downward spiral for me, and I was fortunate to have lived through that dark night of life-taking contemplation.
However, something more fortunate was that I had a mentor that later let me know that things did not have to look traditional for me to succeed. That is what sparked my non-traditional path, and what led me to begin the alignment of my actions with what I was actually called to do. While it took time to build, and even longer to actually figure out the connection between action and values, when it became apparent, it was the foundation of everything I set out to build from then on.
Why does this even matter? Because the decline in physician wellness has everything to do with us being unrelenting in action without considering our own wants and needs. Our entire training foundation teaches us that the patient comes first, that we should ignore even our basic needs of sleep, hunger, and need to eliminate in order to get the job done. So we do. Then we are surprised when 10 or 20 years later we are disenchanted, disconnected and unfulfilled in our professions.
We keep blaming the system for our woes with the medical industry, and certainly burnout has its roots in our being trained to operate like machines. However, as fully grown adults with the ability to think critically, we need to look beyond blaming others and find where we can begin to take responsibility and heal ourselves while we are waiting for the system to change.
If I had not listened to that mentor, and critically applied it, I can assure you my second experience of burnout would have ended like some of my colleagues that I’ve lost. I was not prepared to live a life unfulfilled. I went on to build a successful integrative medicine practice, which I ran for 10 years before I transitioned to physician wellness coaching. It was the echo of my mentor’s voice reminding me that things don’t have to look traditional for you to make the impact you want. Some wonder why I would leave a profession on which I spent so much money, and worked so hard to achieve success. The answer is pretty simple. I listened to my heart.
Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician, and the founder of StressFreeMomMD.com and the Next Level Physician Entrepreneur’s Institute. She specializes in helping other physicians create their ideal careers & build their own businesses. Read her blog at www.stressfreemommd.com, and learn about her physician entrepreneurship programs at www.nextlevelphysicians.com