My Journey

My Journey

May 22, 2024

By Anonymous*

When I picture the epitome of wellbeing, I think of a group of people who have their lives together doing downward facing dogs on a beach at sunset. My journey into wellness was a far less glamorous experience. It was December 2019 and a close friend attempted suicide.  

After driving eleven hours, we visited her at the hospital. As she started on her path towards healing, I started on my path towards burnout. Months later, the very hospital I had visited to see my friend became the epicenter of the pandemic in the US. In February 2020, my four-provider practice became a one-provider practice. I found myself the sole provider caring for a panel of over 2000 patients. At first, I thought I could handle it. I would just work a little harder, that’s all. Surely, the organization I worked for would send me more help. Suddenly thrust into the role of lead (or as I told myself, “Lead by default”) physician, I found myself in uncharted territory. Not only was I responsible for my usual roles, but I was also responsible for the morale of the entire office. Worse, everyone around me looked to me to lead, encourage, and help them navigate through the uncertainty of the pandemic.  

As the days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, I worked tirelessly to ensure everyone was taken care of; everyone that is but me. I slowly began to lose myself to a shell of who I used to be. My first inkling that something was awry was when I began to lose empathy for some of my patients. Why was I working harder than they were? Didn’t they even care about their own health?  Learning to disentangle myself from patient autonomy was always a challenge for me. But I soon realized I was no better at self care than they were.  

In my quest to hold everything together I had forgotten how to take care of myself. In medicine it is often considered a badge of honor to realize at the end of a twelve-hour shift that you haven’t gotten a chance to use the restroom or eat. I learned to question the notion that not attending to normal bodily functions was somehow honorable. I learned to confront the culture in medicine many of us were brought up in; a culture that leads us towards burnout.  

I started my path back to wellness by taking small breaks. Despite the stacks of paperwork on my desk, I extricated myself from my office and went for a walk at lunch. I planned grocery store pickups at 6-7 pm, so I would be forced to leave at a more reasonable hour instead of staying later until all of my work was caught up for the day. I started practicing meditation, exercising, and all the things we tell our patients to do to promote their well-being. I started looking outside of work to find projects that fulfilled my passions. I earned an MBA and am currently working on a health coaching certification. I even became a wellbeing advocate at my local hospital. I enjoy being a voice for culture change and always try to lead by example in my own small clinic.  

Now, your first thought might be that I gave up on working hard in order to achieve life work balance and therefore my productivity must be way down. In fact, I know the opposite to be true. I am more present and productive at work now compared to when I was tired, resentful, and burned out. I am able to accomplish so much more now that I have time to enjoy my life outside of work. I truly feel if we want to prevent future generations from following in our footsteps towards a path of burnout, we need to start with healing ourselves and changing our work cultures.  


*With this sensitive matter, the author has asked us to withhold their name. Please forward any feedback to Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of ACOI.

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