There is a lot of talk about physician burn out and the mental fatigue that physicians are facing. This fatigue isn’t attributed to our “work” but actually to several jobs that we have to do that we never got training for, never signed up for and are frankly below our license. Such things include calling a pharmacy multiple times to make sure the script got there (why isn’t there an electronic system to confirm that?) ,calling primary care’s office at the time of discharge of a patient from the hospital and waiting for many minutes and sometimes up to an hour to get an appointment (why can’t we access their calendar electronically and schedule appointments?), filling out tons of paperwork that’s redundant and repetitive. And then there is administrative pressure. There is the pressure to keep patients happy, keeping high satisfactions scores (and sometimes patient satisfaction does come at the cost of compromising on our principles of prescribing antibiotics when not needed and unnecessary testing for ailments that are solely clinically diagnosed). Some of this burn out is also generating from the constant role of a physician that we play. I recently read a poignant post by a young physician. About how she’s hounded at social gatherings for medical advice. This leads to physician burn out big time. Whilst the general public might think that a physician is public property, a physician is not public property anymore than the man next door. Physicians have a life of their own which should be honored. Physicians can burn out if they’re never allowed to be just another person. This is not to say that we shouldn’t contact physicians when we need them. Always come to us. We like to help people when we can. We have trained for this specifically.
But this debate has actually sparked another debate amongst women physician groups. A debate about burn out being a very old phenomenon in women. And the lack of acknowledgment of it. And the unanimous sentiment is that the burn out that we feel as women is due to lack of appreciation.
Let’s take a look at a mother’s life. Her kids are draining her energy constantly but when they do something new, she draws new strength and vigor from it. This is her recharge; watching her family grow healthy and happy. This isn’t burning her out. Because while there is physical and mental exhaustion, there is also a huge amount of “job satisfaction” in it.
But here’s what causes burn out: the feeling of not being enough. The feeling that we can only be a whole and committed mom if we do everything ourselves. The constant reminder by in-laws and other people around us that there are “better moms” who are working within the same constraints as us but are so much “better at motherhood” compared to us.
What causes burnout is a husband who never says ” you look tired” or ” how can I help?” Or “how was your day?” or ” why don’t you go take a quick nap?” or simply a hubby who calls from work and says ” want me to grab dinner on the way back?”.
Lack of appreciation is what’s causing burn out, women say.
Infertility is a long road for many people. I’m not talking about the 21 year old who has been trying for six months to get pregnant and never on her ovulation days and then posts on an online forum about her problems. Sure her problems are valid but she will find out from any OB that while her efforts are strong, they’re probably poorly timed. I’m talking about the 40 year old who has been trying for fifteen years, is battling endometriosis or anovulatory cycles or polycystic ovarian syndrome or just infertility of no clean reason or a myriad of unfortunate diagnoses that women have to face. Imagine this woman and her husband going to multiple doctors, this is all they worry about, they think about a future that could potentially be without kids, they have spent a fortune on Clomid and then IVF and then repeat testing and a painful surgical procedure along the way. Then imagine the impact that the following words have ; ” have you tried IVF?” or “did you hear about that girl who just got married and is pregnant now?” Or ” are you sure your husband is okay?” Or ” why don’t you adopt”? Or ” why have you been sticking with this doctor for two years? Time isn’t on your side?”.
Instant emotional fatigue. A reminder of how hard the battle is and how the battle isn’t just with infertility. The battle is actually with all the questions about her struggles. Trust me, no one wants to relive what happens during a tough reproductive journey. It has deep emotional and physical scars.
Imagine a woman who just recently broke up/ got divorced/ widowed. She’s trying to get on with her life. She is with a purpose and knows that another relationship may or may not be in the cards for her. There are days when she’s full of optimism. There are nights when she can’t sleep. Sometimes her family is all she needs. Sometimes the world is not enough. There are days when she’s over him. And then there are times when she stalks him on social media and again lapses into depression when sees him with someone else. There are times that a widow’s purpose become her kids. But there are times when she yearns for a life partner. There are times that a man is just a man. But there are times that all it would take for a woman to feel complete is a man. What good does it do to ask these women if they’re dating again or seeing eligible bachelors again or going out again or registering on a matrimonial site or a dating site? How does a widow benefit from the constant reminder that her life should be in the loving memory of her husband and that her sole purpose on this earth are her kids? How does it make a broken heart feel better if we tell a widow or a divorced woman that she won’t find a man again if she doesn’t change her description of her life partner? That most virgin men will go to virgin women? That most eligible men will choose a woman who hasn’t been in another man’s bed? Imagine the constant reminder. And then imagine the mental and emotional burnout.
Imagine a selfless person who sets out to help. Pro bono. Without anything in it for them. They are in it for their community. And they are in it because helping people is part of their spiritual values. They give a voice to those who don’t know how to use theirs. In the process they teach them how to advocate for themselves. Imagine this person receiving our frustration and exasperation at not being individually acknowledged. What does this do to a selfless person? It kills their spirit by causing burn out. The work doesn’t cause burn out. Adversity doesn’t cause burn out. Life doesn’t cause burn out. They signed up for the work. Willingly. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy. They probably didn’t know it was going to be this hard but they take it in stride. They could back off and shut down and call it a day. But they take things on as they come to them, sometimes more than they can handle but they don’t quit because they can’t let their people down. Imagine how this person would feel if they’re ridiculed, harassed, cursed and abused? Imagine someone questioning their calling in life.
Fatigue and burnout are not borne out of doing what we love doing. They’re borne out of not feeling appreciated. Not feeling validated. Emotional exhaustion comes from fighting an inner battle with our problems and then fighting an outer battle with the people around us. None of us can be “present” all the time. None of us can play the mother, the doctor (or any other profession), the nurturer, the widow, the ex, the medical patient, the group administrator and facilitator, the mentor, the spouse, the friend, all the time. We all need moments of time-out. When we appreciate the need for a time-out by fellow humans, we reduce burnout and stress. That’s how we help mental health. That’s how we show support. That’s how we have grace for each other. Don’t think I’m preaching because I’ve been without grace in many situations and I’m trying to change myself also. I’m largely changing myself because of all the graceful women that I see around myself and many on this forum. And I’m realizing that acting less than graceful doesn’t look good on a woman.