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burnout well-being Feb 18, 2023
cairn stone in Iceland by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

(Trigger Warning: This article is not about physician suicide, but I do make mention of it. If you need support, or are feeling unsafe in any way, pause here and get help by calling Physician Support Line at 1-888-409-0141 for free, confidential and anonymous support from Psychiatrists)


How can you be surrounded by people all day and yet feel isolated and alone?

Become a Physician!

Our paths to medicine involved a lot of “weeding out” and sorting us. College applications, organic chemistry, MCAT, Step exams. All of these were designed to separate those who “could” perform from those who “couldn’t.” All along this path we were in competition with others, hoping to come out on top, all the while needing to be liked, needing to be compliant and accommodating, often in ways that required us ignoring our own needs (“I’ll pee when I’m dead”).

And once we get there, once we’ve made it, and we are an attending, many of us find ourselves in this position of needing to make many important decisions all day, having others dependent on us for medical care, for helping to meet their needs medically or otherwise AND wanting to appear both humble and confident and competent and flawless all at once. So we’re surrounded by people and their needs, but often afraid to show weakness or uncertainty, sometimes drowning in burnout and a lack of getting our own needs met, and feeling pressure to “keep it all together.”

This is not sustainable. It’s a reason why people leave, people take sudden leaves, and frankly it’s a reason why physician depression, addictions, and suicides remain a serious concern.

This is the reason why we need to get perfectionism, which is really shame avoidance, OUT of medical culture, and start normalizing teaching physicians to feel their feelings and embrace community.

What do I mean by community? I mean having safe spaces to share your experiences, fears, concerns and wins with other physicians who understand what the work is like. The value in being able to share your experiences, to be vulnerable and to trust that other humans can hold space for you is needed.

When I speak to physician clients in 1:1 coaching sessions, so many express a real loneliness in their lives, relationships sacrificed in one way or another for work, and a lack of safety and camaraderie with others in their work environments. This isn’t true for all workplaces of course, but in many settings, fears of backlash, fears of exposure, fears of being seen as incompetent keep physicians silent and silenced, creating significant isolation.

What we need are more safe spaces for physicians. Places where we can show up with like-minded others, where we can be ourselves. These spaces exist, and they are growing, but we need more. For some this is FB groups, centered around specialities, identities or shared interests. It might be coaching or other support groups, run by professionals who are trained to create safe spaces and who help to foster communities where we can show up as our authentic selves. Balint groups, that focus on the lived emotional experiences of physicians and professionals caring for patients. All of these are examples of ways that we can intentionally come together to better understand our shared humanity in doing the work that we do.

Human beings are hard-wired for connection. So let’s stop ignoring this need for ourselves, or thinking that because we are surrounded by people all day that we are connected. Connection requires vulnerability and trust and being willing to hold space for others and have space held for you. And it’s necessary.

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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