As a diagnostic radiologist, I could not have imagined anything more amazing than having the privilege of using “x-ray vision” to peer inside my patients’ bodies in search of the etiologies behind their symptoms and illnesses. But over time, I felt incredibly stressed, anxious, imbalanced, and overwhelmed, and I developed many symptoms and illnesses of my own, including migraines, tinnitus, vertigo, body pain, reflux, and intermittent paresthesias. My hands would actually go numb at the most inopportune times, including during breast biopsies. I could barely sleep. I was completely exhausted, and I was falling apart. I convinced myself I had a debilitating neurologic disease. Although hard to admit, I became completely burned out and even had suicidal thoughts. I consulted with several medical specialists, took many medications, saw a therapist and … I only got worse. Frightened for my own life, I knew I needed to find another avenue to improve my health. It wasn’t just for me. I owed it to my wonderful husband and children to find a way to get well.
At this point, I was willing to think out of the box and try anything. My life truly depended on it. I had been hearing more and more about yoga and meditation’s benefits and was really quite skeptical but decided I had nothing to lose and gave it a try. After the very first class, I felt an unbelievable shift. I experienced a sense of calm and peace that was palpable. Over time, every one of my symptoms and illnesses resolved. I dove into the medical literature and was surprised to find numerous published papers documenting what I had experienced firsthand.
I learned that we all have the innate ability to take control of our own physiology and shift how we feel in any given moment. In addition to controlling our physiology, we also have the ability to control our mindset. In working with life coaches, I learned how to manage my mind which was best accomplished from a place of calm.
So, looking back:
What was my diagnosis? A severe case of chronic stress.
What was the cure? Self-care.
It was so simple that it was profound!
Self-care is the Rx we were never taught to write.
Self-care is composed of two key components: self-regulation and management. Through life coaching, self-regulation can be achieved through yoga therapy and meditation and mind management.
I felt this newfound knowledge was too important to keep all to myself. I immersed myself into studying yoga therapy, meditation, and life coaching to share what I had learned with as many physicians as possible. My passion to share grew deeper as I was astounded by these negative statistics:
50 percent of physicians are burned out, and the physician suicide rate is twice the national average. I personally have lost three physician colleagues to suicide. All were incredibly kind to me and had impacted my life in positive ways. And all were silently suffering:
- Overdosed and drowned in a hot tub.
- Overdosed in a hotel room during a medical practice retreat.
- Jumped off a bridge and drowned.
The COVID pandemic of 2020 made me see 20/20. As I listened and watched the upward curve of physician suffering, I began to feel incredibly selfish not heeding to the call. Over the years, so many busy physicians have asked me to create an online self-paced self-care program to give them access to self-regulation tools 24/7. But my answer was always “I don’t know where to begin to do that,” so, up until this point, I never did. However, in this past year, because of my strong desire to serve, I took several courses and learned how to download all of the content from my brain into an online platform and created Rx Inner Peace, a CME accredited physician self-care program.
Yes, my heart felt happy as I began to hear how the physicians in my program were transforming their lives for the better, but, at the same time, I felt there was another deep hole to fill: medical student education. My program helps physicians relieve their suffering. Now it is time to prevent it. This missing education piece needs to be available at both ends of the spectrum: relief and prevention.
When I first read an article in JAMA in 2016 that reported 1 in 4 students experience depression/symptoms of depression, and 11 percent have suicidal thoughts, I seriously lost my breath. These are our seedlings. Most are the same ages as my own young adult children, early to mid-20s, already depressed and suicidal.
They are entering this medical tornado with a deep passion to serve and deserve to learn how to take care of themselves first before caring for others. Otherwise, they will likely end up as another negative statistic. This education is important for their own well-being in addition to the well-being of their future patients.
I firmly believe that self-care education should be a part of every single medical student’s curriculum. This should begin on the first day of orientation while sitting amongst their classmates already beginning to experience anxiety and stress symptoms. It is imperative that in that very moment, self-care education begins.
This is our call to action. I have the experience, knowledge, expertise, and deep passion for teaching every medical student these skills. I cannot do it alone. I need you. We need to do this together. I am seeking those of you who are caring, innovative clear thinkers involved in medical school curriculum creation. We owe it to our physician seedlings. We owe it to their future patients. Who out there can now see 20/20? It is time to change the culture of medicine and focus on prevention. I am 100 percent in. Who is with me?
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