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My Burnout Nearly Cost Me Everything. Now I Help Other Physicians Overcome It.

0 2 years ago

For many people in my field, becoming a doctor has been a dream since childhood.

I still remember the moment in my senior year of high school when my call to serve and heal became clear. Deeply touched by my connection with a nursing home patient who had Alzheimer’s disease, I was drawn to give back through empathy and compassion, to care for those who needed it most.

Fifteen years later — after completing the required grueling education and training — I became a pediatric oncologist devoted to caring for children with blood and life-threatening cancers. It was a job that gave me real purpose and I had jumped through every hoop imaginable to prepare for it. Finally, I told myself, I had made it.

But my journey was far from over.

Fast forward another five years and I was in the darkest place of my life. I was so severely burned out that I found myself dreaming of ways to end it. My work had become everything, and I wanted to stop the pain it was causing me. My breaking point came the day I spoke with a family making the difficult decision to withdraw care from their child with end-stage cancer. Following that long and emotionally challenging encounter, I was done. While driving home, I experienced the strong and chilling urge to drive my car off a cliff.

That moment became the catalyst for life as I live it today. It was the moment I knew I needed to ask for help. I took a leave of absence from my work as a physician and invested in a therapist and coaching.

Since then, I’ve learned that my story is shared by countless other physicians, especially those who are women. The data is unsettling: 76% of physicians report moderate to severe burnout, with the risk for burnout significantly higher among female than male physicians. Physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any profession — one in five has considered it — and women physicians are at a 400% higher risk of dying by suicide than women in the general population. While the reasons behind these findings may vary depending on the impacted person, many are rooted in the fact that the culture of medicine is still male-dominated and has yet to adapt to support the needs of women who also disproportionately shoulder the caregiving, household, and childcare load at home.

Why did it take me so long to discover these statistics?

In my experience, this information is not widely shared because our medical culture is cloaked in the perception that physicians are all-knowing and invincible. Workers in the field are trained not to complain or show emotion, and to soldier on. The culture is one of silence and self-sacrifice that glorifies overwork. It’s no wonder that today health care professionals are experiencing a mental health crisis.


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