By Oren Gersten
Residency training is between three and seven years. All Resident Doctors carry a medical degree and have passed all the necessary training to provide medical services. In fact, step into any major hospital in the US and your treatment from start to finish is likely to be carried out by a resident doctor.
Some might question how physician burnout could happen only three years into a career that is supposed to last decades. Picture this: 28 of your last 30 days have been spent in the hospital. Each of those days has consisted of waking up at 5 a.m. and facing one life-threatening crisis after another. After about Day 14 of this you think, “I’ve hit my breaking point.”
The day consists of working, sleeping, and eating in that hierarchy. You do this willingly day after day, year after year because that is what doctors do. And after you think you’ve found a balance, where this just might be sustainable, something breaks.
Physician burnout – My own story…
For me that breaking point was my Grandma getting critically ill. She was at the ICU. It doesn’t take a doctor to know that it isn’t good news. Everyone processes these kinds of things in a different way. I went to the chapel, closed my eyes and cried. I cried for my grandma. And I cried for my family who was about to enter a medical system fraught with hard decisions that is all too often not personal. Also, I cried for myself because I was at the edge and I truly felt I had nothing left to give.
I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive family as well as colleagues. I write this to illustrate that one unpredictable event in a physician’s life can push them from what is already a stressful job over to the point of burnout.
For me this story has a happy ending. My Grandma is okay, she made it out of the hospital. I’m also okay. I have chosen a career outside the hospital in Direct Primary Care where I have more control over my hours and stress level. History has shown that the same cannot be said for other Resident Doctors in my position experiencing burnout.
Some thoughts on moving forward…
Being a doctor is a privilege and an honor. We do not deserve special treatment. In fact, I think that we need better working conditions for all people. I can only speak from my experience in my chosen career. At the very least there needs to be a shift to accommodate bereavement time for physicians who find themselves in a position such as mine.
We should not encourage a system that pushes physicians to the point where they are only one family crisis away from going over the edge of critical burnout. It happened to me. I know it has happened to others. All I can hope is that future generations of healers may have more protections than we do now.