Physicians are struggling with challenges navigating the health care system while trying to provide the best possible care for their patients. Sometimes, struggles at work are compounded by struggles at home as we all face stressors during our travel through life; doctors are no exception.
Many physicians who went through a period of burnout have sought and are seeking help. They are feeling hope for the future. I asked three physicians how burnout manifested in them, how they are doing now, what brings them joy, and a best tip to share with their colleagues. Here’s what they had to say:
Diana Londoño, MD
Before coaching, when I was in full-blown burnout (x 2), I was a ball of negativity and cynicism. I was definitely not a joy to be around. My body also suffered from chronic unmanaged stress, including symptoms leading to teeth grinding, which destroyed my molars, leading to root canal and abscess, new onset GERD, asthma at 42 years old, debilitating chest pain with “normal” echo, and Holter monitor, and joint pain with elevation in rheumatoid factor seen in autoimmune disease.
Once I began coaching and had a spiritual awakening, I began a daily spiritual practice, and all symptoms resolved. It is daily work, but I am more calm, joyful, less reactive, and more compassionate and curious than before. I have a bigger space from reaction to action, and I take things that bothered me before now more lightly. I also started writing to process my emotions and reading daily to keep my mind and creativity active. I have a daily routine to quiet my mind as well as continue to learn as much as I can to share with others. My burnout/ spiritual crisis was the impetus to create Physiciancoachsupport to help colleagues in a free and confidential manner and realize we are never alone and there is always hope!
Every day, I wake up and realize all the blessings we have that bring me joy, including giggles and laughs from my kids. Knowing I have stopped many cycles of generational trauma also brings me joy.
Best tip: Be yourself.
Jillian Rigert, DMD, MD
We often wait until we need a change to give ourselves permission to pause, ask for help, and possibly pivot. I know … I am guilty of it.
It took a few close calls with a slow death from starvation for me to realize- no one was going to be able to save me but me — and I needed to pivot.
Letting go of the guilt and shame after the career pivot that saved my life took five years, and it started with an article on KevinMD (thank you, Dr. Pho!). Some people say I was brave, but quite frankly, I didn’t know if I could keep going- and I knew I couldn’t leave this Earth without speaking the words that may save others.
Sharing my story has brought a community of friends into my life who taught me what it really means to be seen and supported holistically. Through our shared humanity, struggles, and triumphs, we find community and belonging. Connection, a sense of belonging, and a mission-driven life have brought peace, love, and optimism back into my life.
Coaching taught me how to get back into the driver’s seat and discover, or rediscover, what it truly means to live a life true to myself. Helping others to do the same has expanded my world and filled my heart with a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.
“What do you really want for your life?” – a question I’ll leave you with. And one we often don’t stop long enough to consider.
Learn more: Jillian Rigert, DMD, MD – A Life True to You
Best tip: Create a life in alignment with your core values and grounded in your why- break free from societal pressures that often lead you astray.
See what brings Dr. Rigert joy:
Stephen Lewellis, MD, PhD
I knew something was wrong when I started having reactions of frustration and exasperation that were consistently disproportionate to the inciting events.
My patients and team are rarely subject to this behavior. I’m a professional, and I’m great at my craft. My team gets consistently stellar reviews, and my teammates tell me they appreciate how I make them feel empowered to deliver exceptional care to our patients.
However, that doesn’t mean this negative pattern wasn’t detrimental.
During 4+ years working in a corporate health care setting, I’ve experienced stifling limitations on my autonomy. Combine this with the air of unfeasibility and unsustainability that permeates discussions about private, independent practice, and you have a recipe for resentment, frustration, and reactivity.
At the heart of it, I suspect that a well of negative feelings towards the health care system in which I was a medical student, resident, and am now a practicing physician has insidiously built up within me over the years and is taking its toll.
I’m investing in therapy with a wonderful psychologist to help me work through this. I haven’t yet tried physician coaching, but it’s just a matter of time for that.
I’m optimistic that doing the work (e.g., therapy, mindset training, gratitude) will guide me to a place where I’m able to present and maintain myself in a less reactive and more loving state.
I can already feel the tide turning.
Joy: Watching my son golf and play with dinosaurs. Watching my daughter giggle, bring me books to read, and race her monster trucks. Going on hikes with my wife and our dog. Solving problems for others. Good coffee and a book.
Best tip: Create more than you consume.
Kim Downey is a physical therapist.