Burnout? Doctors vs. Moms Edition

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medical spouse mom burnout

Burnout? Doctors vs. Moms Edition

We all know what it’s like to have a burned out doctor in the family. Unless you married a dermatologist who works part time, after they completed residency, you have been through the trenches with your spouse. You know burnout.


But, as a medical mom, chances are you have your own smoldering case of burnout as well. How’s that going for you? And do you have a plan for fixing that?


Doctor burnout vs. Medical Mom burnout: which is worse

Nobody can say whose experience of burnout is worse— it’s all subjective. Each person’s experience will vary on their physiological and psychological tolerance for stress. 


There is a lot of talk in the press and in medical communities about physician burnout both because it is so pervasive and because the burnout of physicians adversely affects not only the doctors but also their patients. Double whammy.


What is burnout? You know, just in case you aren’t filled in yet.

Burnout is a job-related state of fatigue, including loss of empathy, loss of accomplishment, and feeling emotional drained. 


This is absolutely how I was feeling near the end of my medical career. I was working unsustainably, working through the night some nights, staying late others, and wishing I could be home with my kids instead. I was bitter that I was paying someone else to watch (to RAISE) my children. In the meantime, I was doing a job that I had decided I wanted to do two decades earlier, and I felt as if I couldn’t get off the train because it was moving too fast.


Doctors definitely report feeling this way in medicine, but I know so many of you moms do, too. When your spouse is working 50-60 hours a week, you don’t feel like you get a break. It doesn’t feel right to ask for help when he comes home, because you know he’s burned out, too. Or maybe you feel like you’re supposed to love being a mom— everyone else seems to— but it just never happened for you. Inside you want to trade places with me, and go back to work. But you don’t know who to tell.


So, what do you do?

There is no easy answer, but the important answer is: take care of yourself. Do it for you, and do it for your family. It is complicated for doctors to get help for burnout, mostly because of their schedule. Anything is possible, actually, but it doesn’t seem that way when you’re a practicing doc!

For you, though, relieving the burnout through any means necessary will be the first step. Give the frayed ends of your brain what it is craving. If you haven’t had alone time in days, start there. Create a list of five ways you can create alone time for yourself this week, and try all of them.

The next step is sleep. Getting several nights of good sleep in a row, if you have been missing it, gives the world a glow it has been missing. Try it and see. I find that medical moms end up bearing the brunt of infant care because they are worried about the physician spouse having to work. The honest fact is that it takes two humans to make a baby, and both of you signed on to do it knowing what it entailed, so I don’t let the doc out of it at all. Neither should you. Let me know if I need to regulate.


Once you have health with those two, you can move on to the higher level activities: incorporating things you enjoy, introducing outdoor time, and adding exercise back in. None of these should be overwhelming at first, because they aren’t necessary. If you can get some alone time and some sleep, you will start to feel like a winner.


Beat your burnout

In the end, the medical mom is the one who sets the tone for the house, so it really does pay for you to settle any burnout you may be facing. I hope I’ve convinced you that your burnout is just as valid as any a doctor has, and that you should treat it just as seriously!

I'm going to help you remember what self-love looks like

We guilt ourselves out of our own health way too often. In medical families, it can seem so virtuous, because the physician seems to be working so hard— we don’t want to be a bother. I say, BS! That line of thinking is so sneaky, you have to nip it right in the bud. You put your own oxygen mask on first, sister.


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