Do millennials have the key to fight burnout?

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Dear millennial,

Mea culpa!

I’m not so old — but old enough to have thrown out my share of jabs at the millennial generation. My quips have been nothing creative: lazy, entitled, lacking work ethic, you know, the usual stuff. These generalizations were how I would describe the work-hour restricted medical residents, the girl behind the Brandy Melville counter, heck even my brothers (one of whom I don’t even think technically classifies as a millennial.)

Recently, I met with one of these “shiny new pennies,” a young, peppy entrepreneur who was helping me with some professional coaching. She was a longtime acquaintance, and as such, the conversation started with small talk about life and motherhood. After sharing the wonders of being a new mother, she shared her struggle with a frank admission, “I like my personal time and self-care.”

I was struck by her honesty. Personal time? Self-care? Who else would be so candid about their needs but a millennial?

This admission was particularly timely for me. As a freshly over-the-hump, 40-something, I was questioning my long-held value system defined by martyrdom and self-sacrifice. Mantras by which many in my generation have prided ourselves, particularly same-age cohorts in the medical profession. We were the chosen ones, having been afforded the opportunity to do it all and would be damned to be proven otherwise. A perfect match, by the way, for the paternalistic medical system that couldn’t help but exploit our desire to please, employing us for the same work yet paying us 20 to 30 percent less than our male counterparts. But despite the inequity, this was a paradigm that I was willing to accept. I was grateful for the opportunities and the privilege of serving in my dream profession.

But I began to wonder … who said that personal time was wrong and that self-care was a sin? Not affording ourselves these basic needs is perhaps the very reason physician burnout is so high among my cohort. Maybe denying ourselves these comforts was akin to devaluing ourselves. A slippery proposition, as once you do not hold value for yourself, you allow for others to undervalue you as well. Could this be one of the reasons for the mass exodus of dedicated young faculty from academic medicine — a pilgrimage I myself am familiar with?

Indeed, feeling undervalued and invalidated is one of the most cited reasons that young physicians leave employment from the institutional setting.

This inability for “just being” also trickles out into the social space. Who has the time to sign a petition, the energy to write our congress-people or participate in a march when you feel depleted with nothing left to give? This is not exactly a “not in my backyard” mentality, but it certainly comes pretty damn close.

As I contemplate where I have been and where I want to go, what I have been given and what I wish to leave behind for my three children, I wonder if a slower pace, personal time, self-care and allowing for the space to just be is the breeding ground for the social consciousness and activism that marks this generation. Perhaps self-awareness and self-love are exactly what it will take to feed our homeless, educate our youth, achieve common-sense gun laws and to create compassionate and equitable workplaces for new mothers and fathers, gays, women and people of all colors and denominations. My hope is that the audacity of this new paradigm will ultimately change our narrative and the social legacy that my children will inherit.

Respectfully,

Adrienne Youdim

Adrienne Youdim is an internal medicine physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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