I wrote recently about my decision to quit my job and shortly thereafter had a powerful conversation with Dr. Pamela Wible. For those unfamiliar with her work, she has authored provocative blogs such as “Medical school has killed my soul. What can I do,” “Why doctors kill themselves” and describes physician burnout as physician abuse. Her platform has taken a taboo subject and brought it onto its own stage.
The discussion with Dr. Wible found me inextricably contemplating my own career experience and viewing it through a new prism. Physician abuse is something that is only recently starting to get media attention, and is not a term to be used lightly. But is the phenomenon as new as the exposure? Or has it existed for a long time, while we the physician populace suffered silently, like a diagnosis with no name or treatment?
If that is the case, who do we turn to but each other?
Let’s first consider “physician burnout.” Many of us can relate to the concept on some level; it can mean many different things, showing symptoms mild to severe. But how many of us readily accept that being “burned out” is completely our own fault? How many of us quietly accept the consequence of seeing too many patients in one day? Pamela makes the point that the phrase physician burnout tends to blame the physician. The subtle accusation of self-responsibility is built into the phrase… if there’s burnout it’s our own fault.
Not according to Pamela. She calls the physician the victim!
With much introspection (that I would encourage you also to do), I’m still not yet sure if I was “burned out” or in an environment that was abusive toward physicians or not… that degree of closure may take some time and I am not one to jump to such a weighty conclusion. However what I do know is that I felt reinvigorated when I discharged myself from my prior job. This wasn’t some overdue triumphant event that I plotted for any length of time; I had loved my position once. But leaving found me with the keen physical sense of a relieved burden off my shoulders and a surprising flood of relief. I couldn’t see the stress for what it was until I had alleviated it. In the short two months since I have lost 20 pounds and feel much happier and healthier.
How many of us have had those moments where you know that you need a break, but feel obligated to continue? How many of us feel that the term ‘break’ automatically equivocates to laziness? For residents, you are being trained to accept a healthcare model that does not place your well-being in very high regard. You will be inundated with phrases like physician engagement and physician burnout. You will be blamed for the failures of a system that is very skilled at making the degradation seem to come from the mirror.
Fortunately, we are not without leverage. First and foremost, that comes from knowing your purpose as to why you became a physician. Find your personal statement and read it to yourself… do you remember the passion? The energy? How different are things now? Is the work environment you now find yourself in allow you to meet the goals you set for yourself back then?
Here’s a clinical pearl we can forget sometimes – we are highly trained and highly mobile professionals. All physicians are. You have the choice to work almost anywhere in the country; how many professions can say that? How can this revelation help you? You are never limited or stuck in an employment model that causes you unnecessary stress or anxiety. Burnout and abuse are difficult topics with many possible reasons and sources – but solutions can come from you.
Always remember: what you are willing to accept, is what the quality will be.
Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your story – you too have a story that needs to be told.