Challenging and frustrating are two words describing what it feels like to be a doctor today. Yet numerous physicians are sharing their journeys as to how they moved through difficult times and have been able to find joy again by practicing medicine on their own terms.
The following doctors describe how they have continued seeing patients while incorporating additional pursuits that help them feel balanced and fulfilled.
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Amna Shabbir, MD
I had a lot of ambition, energy, and love for the practice of medicine when I started my first job after training. In a few months, however, I felt depleted, disempowered, and drowning in work. I did not know what was a “me” problem and what was a “system” issue. I also did not know who to turn to for help.
When I started getting coached, clarity was the most priceless gain I attained. Prior to this, I had wanted to leave medicine completely. Getting coached allowed me to recognize my passions further. I returned to medical training and did a fellowship. I learned to advocate for myself while finding my next job and be in a space of authenticity and alignment.
Being able to practice medicine with autonomy, surrounded by supportive colleagues, has been the most joyful professional discovery I’ve made. Finding a community of like-minded physicians who are all advocating for physician wellness and working alongside them has been so fulfilling. During this journey, I also received my coach certification and currently help early career physicians navigate transitioning from training to being an attending and beyond. Outside of work, spending time with my family has been key in my healing.
When we are in the awful space of burnout, overwhelm, and moral injury, everything appears unattainable; even asking for help is exhausting. Know that things can change and life truly can get better. One simply must take the first step and ask for help. Yes, it can be that simple. I would urge you to take that first step and not wait any longer.
Tamara Beckford, MD
In March 2020, the pandemic hit. I was an emergency medicine physician working on the front lines. It was the most challenging time of my career. People were scared; the hospital was busy, and we didn’t understand the virus.
One by one, those around me contracted the virus. I wondered if I would be next. I only knew that COVID-19 spread quickly and could be fatal. Although I could access personal protective equipment, I wondered what would happen if I caught the virus.
It was also a period of introspection. I always wanted to do something outside medicine, but fear kept me stuck. I had been practicing for nearly 15 years, mistakenly thinking it was the only thing I could do.
The pandemic was the impetus for change. I took massive action, joined a community of entrepreneurial physicians and found a coach. Although I had no formal training, I decided to learn the skills needed to start a live show online and launch a business.
On the show, I interview physicians worldwide about their fantastic work inside and outside clinical medicine to amplify their stories. While still working clinically, I chat with a new physician weekly. These conversations bring me joy, hope, and excitement.
My business helps companies reduce employee burnout and stress through workshops. I teach the same strategies that allowed me to avoid burnout during the pandemic. I facilitate retreats for private practice owners, focusing on achieving three key goals: enhancing team cohesion, combating burnout, and ultimately driving increased profits.
I also serve as a success mentor, leading 40+ physicians weekly in small groups. Adding these dimensions to my work has helped me thrive. I realized I could practice medicine and live on my terms.
Robert Kornfeld, DPM
Training had me entrenched in the traditional Western medical model. That is how I began my career. Two years after I started my practice, I became ill. I went to my internist, and he gave me medications. They didn’t help. I went back. He changed the prescriptions. I had bad side effects. I went to a new doctor. He gave me a different prescription. It didn’t help. Finally, out of frustration, I went to a holistic doctor. It was a completely different experience. The initial consultation was over an hour. He did lab work and eventually gave me a protocol that healed me within 6 weeks (after almost 2 years of suffering). I was amazed at the power inherent in nature. I dove into learning everything I could, taking every course, attending every seminar, and reading as many books as possible. By 1987, I decided to incorporate it into my practice. And it was magical.
Since insurance would not reimburse for these services, I created a hybrid practice. Traditional services were offered through insurance. The rest had to be paid by the patient directly to the office. The results of my protocols were astounding to me. I attracted many patients who were failed by traditional medicine. My practice became a chronic foot and ankle pain practice. By 2000, the overwhelming stress of dealing with insurance and the ever-decreasing reimbursements was more than I was willing to accept; I created a fully direct-pay practice.
I have enjoyed a stellar career and love what I do. Best of all, insurance companies cannot dictate what I can and cannot do for my patients. I created a course for podiatrists to learn functional medicine and teach them how to leave insurance dependency, creating a practice that puts the patient first.
If you’re stuck, it’s because you’re pouring the glue on your own feet.
Kim Downey is a physical therapist.