I am a small-town family physician, and I am blessed enough to be living my dream.
You see, I have always wanted to be a doctor. I cannot think of one other occupation choice that has ever entered my brain. I have wanted this since I was four-years-old, and I can remember in vivid detail telling the world this was what I was destined to be.
So what happens when your dream burns you out? I didn’t plan for this. I had followed the perfect roadmap to obtain my picture-perfect career, but here I am — 38-years-old and on the verge of burnout.
This realization is extremely uncomfortable for me. I do not burnout. I have always been a high performer. I have always risen to the top, but once again here we are standing on the cliff of burnout.
How did this happen?
More importantly: How did this happen to me?
The past six months, I have been reflecting on my career, job, and life in general. I have been listening to self-help books, success books — hell, any book that I think may provide me some insight on how to fix this issue. I have diagnosed where my burnout has come from.
It has come from having no boundaries.
Let me explain what I mean by no boundaries. I am employed by a large hospital system and serve as an outpatient family medicine physician in a small community. Our campaign is “access.”
So, what does this actually mean?
It means I am always taking new patients even if they are booked out six months. I am expected to walk patients in on my schedule when they randomly show up in my clinic. I am expected to see patients when they show up late for their appointments regardless of my schedule or plans. They are challenging our traditional hours and asking for 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday hours. Where are the boundaries? Who is protecting the providers?
I always envisioned myself working in a small town. I want to be able to serve and practice reciprocity in my community with no strings attached, but they have consumed me. In today’s society of instant gratification, my patients have no boundaries. During my workday and while at home, I am texted daily by patients asking medical questions or being asked to be squeezed into the schedule. I am messaged on social media. I am stopped at the grocery store, the soccer fields and even at church. They call my front desk staff telling them we are “best friends” to get access to me faster. The lines are blurred in a small town. They have no boundaries.
With an employer who is demanding more access, and patients who want instant care, how do we create boundaries? Providers are people. People with families. There must be boundaries to protect our providers. No provider can deliver 24/7 care without burnout.
This is why I am on the verge.
As a family medicine physician, I am my patients number-one. They want me to be their urologist, cardiologist and, most of the time, their therapist. What they forget is I am also someone’s wife and mother.
Medicine is my passion. I love my job, but I am human. I deserve privacy. My family deserves privacy. I want my patients to have easy access to good health care but not at a school event. I want to answer all my patients’ questions but in the right environment with proper documentation.
In a me-now society, how do we protect our boundaries? And how do we stop doctors like me from burning out?
Kacey Gibson is a family physician.
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