2 Stories of How Physicians Dealt with Burnout

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We’ve been talking to doctors all around the world, and the mood is consistent. Physicians are frustrated and suffering from burn out because the old model of practicing medicine is no longer meeting their needs. From decreased compensation to desire to spend more time with our families to the combination of loss of autonomy and an increasingly impersonal and inefficient system, a career in medicine is not meeting its end of the agreement to physicians, to the health care staff, or to the patients.

So, how do we fix this?

Fortunately, this is the type of environment that causes the leaders amongst us to emerge. Not only have doctors become aware of the problems, but many of us have taken steps to discover more fulfilling ways to use our hard-earned knowledge and skills. The next step is to reach back and prevent the loss of many talented medical professionals and their creative energy that is currently taking place.

Here’s what we can do:

We need to show doctors that not only are they not alone, but that there is a thriving community of like-minded doctors who have traveled the path ready to support them. By sharing our stories, we can educate and inspire doctors stuck where we have been. We can give them permission to focus again on self-care and better work-life balance. We can provide them with the refreshing change of perspective that empowers them to reimagine life in medicine in a flavor that is more aligned with who they are and their life purpose.

We can teach them the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. That way, they contribute their creative brilliance in ways that will help them become productive members of our community, thrive and grow going forward. At the same time, we’re modeling best practices in authentic, purpose-based entrepreneurship.

We can build an ecosystem that eliminates the waste of human potential that is now manifesting as physician burnout, attrition, substance abuse, and stress. We provide creative outlets without stodgy gatekeepers with antiquated expectations and a community of support and connectedness.

Dr. Swiner’s story:

I decided after seven years in practice, that I wanted something different, something new; a side-hustle if you will. Because my husband was an entrepreneur and business owner, I had the influence already there at home. I watched how he turned a “side-gig” into a “main gig,” and he loved it. Sure, it was challenging at times, but at the end of the day, the product and reward were all his.

Once my practice separated from a hospital after my third year of practice, we became a private, independent clinic run by my partner and me. I had no previous business experience, and neither did he, but we stepped out on faith and tried it! We’ve been a successful partnership ever since.

Dr. Saint-Victor’s story:

I began to believe that the machine was training us and disempowering us at the same time. I resorted to my old adaptation of learning the information in isolation. My first two years of med school, I would skip class and lock myself away with the syllabus only showing up for exams. It worked for Harvard, so I trusted it would get me through med school. I would drop by for mandatory things like dissection and labs. I was able to take in the medical knowledge while dodging the toxic pessimism that I experienced in medical culture.

Eventually, I became a toxic complainer, too. I stopped looking forward to a brighter future. Instead, I looked forward to getting high enough on the totem pole to not be on the receiving end of random humiliation and to a salary that allowed me to dull my pain with wanton materialism.

This is my curse and my gift though. I’ve gone from living like I was on stage, petrified what some imaginary audience thought, to struggling to find my authentic meaning. My training in psychiatry, marketing, and my experience in the corporate world put me in a position to support and inspire others feeling the call to adventure. Or stuck in burnout wondering how to make meaning after decades of hard work and sacrifice. My place happens to be on the highway helping other doctors find their way to either practicing medicine in a way that feels more authentic or making a well-thought out decision to leave the field.

Our goal, as physicians, should be to create a community that raises awareness that frustration is often a signal that what you’re doing is not working. From there we will get doctors on a fast path to realizing that there is nothing pathological about how they are feeling, before damage to self-esteem and self-worth kicks in.

There is hope.

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