Had the following conversation with my scheduling staff:
Staff: I am going to have the patient come in on Friday to see you at 12.
Me: Why? I thought he was scheduled to see me at 1pm.
Staff: Yeah, but he has to see the nurse before he sees you, so I asked him to come in at 11:30am to see the nurse; that way he can see you at 12.
I decided to say this even though I knew what the answer would be: Why can’t he see me at 1pm and see the nurse at 12:30?
Staff: Oh, the nurse has to go to lunch.
Me: and I don’t need lunch?
Staff: I thought doctors don’t eat. Do you eat lunch?
I have been working with her for over 5 years. She diligently takes hers on the dot.
Yes, I often don’t eat. That is not because I don’t need to eat; it is because I don’t get to eat. Hospital supporting staffs often assume that doctors don’t need breaks, don’t need to eat, don’t need anything else but work and more work; without complaints, without rest. Partially it is my fault, because I have allowed them to treat me that way.
Physician burnout is a real problem. According to JAMA Internal Medicine Mayo Clinic study, U.S. physicians are more likely to have symptoms of burnout and work-life imbalance compared to average Americans. Physicians are overworked, overwhelmed and worse, unable to admit it. Nobody wants to seem weak.
When I was a second year resident and was carrying Plumster during my third trimester, I was made Chief resident. There were three male residents my year or senior and could have easily taken the honor and responsibility. Instead of asking for help to share the responsibility, I shouldered it, alone, covering a crazy hectic academic department with two junior first-year residents who needed supervision. I didn’t want to seem weak. I didn’t want them to think that being an expectant mother would interfere with my work. After a month of this grueling role, I had a black out in the middle of the hallway, en route to answer two pages, while seeing a patient, with five more in line for the afternoon. The nurses there had the good sense to sit me down and take my vitals and immediately wanted to send me to the Emergency Department. Then, even then, I protested, worrying who was going to cover the afternoon tumor board if I was gone. Nurse Janet flagged down a breast surgeon who was walking by. I still remember this conversation vividly: they asked me, “what would you tell yourself if you were the patient?” They finally convinced me and Nurse Janet took me to the ED immediately. Pre-term contractions. I knew Plum-the-fetus was not ready to be delivered. Took hours and hours to medically manage and stop the contractions. I was sent to bed rest until delivery. Plum Bear came out healthy and I am forever grateful to the team of people who asked me to treat myself as I would my patients.
Work-life imbalance. Type A personality.
Today I have decided that–after listening to my own medical advice eight years ago–I am not a robot. I am a human, a living being that needs nutrition, hydration, and social interaction. I will exercise what I preach.