A conversation with a doctor who was tired of feeling burned out

An excerpt from the Docs Outside the Box podcast, episode 1:  When the going gets tough… MOVE! 

Dr. Nii: All right, well thank you very much for joining us on the Doc’s Outside-the-Box podcast. You are our first guest — first victim, I guess. It’s the inaugural episode, so I just wanted to thank you for joining us. I know you are in New Zealand, which is roughly 18 hours away.

Dr. Brown: It’s eight o’clock in the morning and Sunday morning. So we are a full day in advance.

Dr. Nii: A full day in advance. The first course I want to ask you is: Tell us where you’re from.

Dr. Brown: All right. Well, I’m actually from southwest Atlanta originally — born and raised. I went to undergrad at Tulane University in New Orleans. And I majored in cell and molecular biology and went on to Morehouse School of Medicine for medical school back in Atlanta near my family. After Morehouse, I actually finished my residency in OB/GYN, and that was in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Nii: So, tell us about what happened after you finished residency. Dr. Brown finishes residency — she decides to get a job. What was your first job?

Dr. Brown: My first job actually was back in Georgia. I got a job in Athens. I was working for private practice, and it was about hour and a half outside of Atlanta. I stayed there for almost two years and ended up leaving because my husband found a much better job in Phoenix, Arizona. We moved to Phoenix after that. He’s an anesthesiologist.

Dr. Nii: How long were you out there for?

Dr. Brown: We were in Phoenix for very long time. I’ve stayed out there for the next like seven to eight years. I did another private practice for two years. And then I realized private practice wasn’t for me. I kind of started to feel that there was something more, something I was missing and I just wasn’t feeling that professional fulfillment honestly. Trapped doing another two years of private practice, I decided that maybe I should become like a faculty physician. I got a faculty position at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix Arizona. I was responsible for teaching residents: doing grand rounds, doing lectures, supervising them on labor and delivery. Supervising them at surgery. I also did some clinic privately. But it was mostly just kind of a faculty position, and I stayed with them for almost five years.

Dr. Nii: So can you pinpoint, because you’re working with residents — obviously, you have a private practice. Financially you must have been doing OK.. Where was the disconnect?

Dr. Brown: I guess the thing is that, to me, I felt like all those years I was turning away and working so hard. And as most people know, whether you’re in the private practice or even if you’re an employee physician like I was at St. Joe, you just really don’t have a lot of downtime … a lot of off time. I was full-time working five days a week commuting in two hours a day and just really felt like I never had any time off. And I think what makes it worse is that we are a two-doctor family with my husband being on call working and me being on-call and working. I just really felt like we didn’t have a lot of time together and so we … yeah, exactly, vacations became very important to us. That was our only time to like really spend together. We started doing little things like taking long weekends together. I would take a Friday off, and we would drive to Vegas or you know go to LA or something like that. But after a while, you just really wanted to have more time off. I only had off three weeks of vacation a year. That’s all I had for the entire year. And we just decided one year that what we’re going to really maximize this. We are going to take a really big vacation. We are going to take two weeks off and it was really good time. And that’s where our first international trip came from. I had never gone out of the United States before. I didn’t even own a passport until I left the United States.

Dr. Nii: Well since you’re in New Zealand, did you ever come back from that first trip or did you come back multiple times?

Dr. Brown: Well, New Zealand, I believe, that was actually our last international trip together. That was in 2009 and at that point, I kind of felt — at work, I felt like I just really still wasn’t getting that time off to spend with my husband. I really felt that I wanted more time off to actually enjoy life and I just felt like that three weeks was not enough to actually enjoy life. I didn’t have a work-life balance. I just really felt like it was something long and there were some things going on at work that were not really making me happy. I specifically got that job to become a faculty position, work with residents exclusively and to not have a large private practice and my job was kind of moving toward wanting to market us as private physicians and wanting me to really take that role as a private physician again —I definitely was against that. I came to an impasse where I didn’t want to do that and I felt myself slipping away again. And that’s when we made the decision. you know we were, like, there’s got to be a better way and because we had just come back from Australia and New Zealand and had met American expatriates there and talked to some people that knew American physicians and talked to American physician that were there, I was done. I was like: if she can do it — why can’t we? And that was it. That was it.

Nii-Daako Darko is a surgeon and founder, Docs Outside the Box.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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