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How Dr. Mommies can Change the Culture of Medicine


I have only been in practice for 14 years, but I remember the exact reason for my first experience of burnout. Medicine was rigid, and for good reason as we deal with life or death on a daily basis. However, as I looked out into the working world there was no room for flexibility in the traditional primary care practice.  Complementary medicine was looked down upon.  Wanting to work part time was viewed as laziness. As a woman, there was always more to prove, and wanting a family was not encouraged (even amongst other female doctors).  There was no conversation about work life balance, and no awareness or concern for the physician’s state of mind or well-being.  However, today things are shifting. I teach medical students and residents daily, and I’m seeing the mindset shift towards the enjoyment of life as a physician.  Resident physicians are outwardly expressing the desire to have families and be able to spend time with them. There is a growing awareness of the need for physician stress relief and burnout prevention strategies from hospital organizations down to medical schools and residency programs. 

As a private practice physician, entrepreneur and executive coach who works with other women physicians and doctor mommies to create balance. I’m seeing a trend. There are many women in medicine who love what they do and wish to continue doing it.   There are also mommy docs who are clear that medicine is not the last stop in their working careers.  Then there is the hybrid. The doctor who loves her career, but is looking for an additional part time stream of revenue that is both lucrative and fulfilling.   There is a clear shift in what we are creating in our careers as physicians, and this gives us access to shifting the way we create our careers as doctors.  As women and especially moms in medicine, we have more power than we realize. We have the opportunity to take a major role in re-shaping the culture of medicine.

  1. Demanding and creating more opportunities for part time and job sharing. Gone are the days of part-timers looking weak or lazy. More and more physicians are seeking out ways to either lower their FTE’s or enter the workforce at less than part time. If more women physicians demand more opportunities for job sharing or 0.8 or less FTE, then more opportunities will get created.
  1. Realizing that you are not alone: It is common to think that no one understands what you are going through. The truth is that you are far from alone. There are many physicians experiencing pre-burnout or burnout symptoms.  However, we tend to isolate and not talk about these things. This is why accessing existing support systems and creating new ones is vital. Supporting each other allows for the exchange of ideas and empowerment. There are already existing doctor mommy support groups on social media as an example. Additionally, physician led physicians stress relief support groups created either within hospital organizations or independently allow for shared resources and physician led solutions.
  2. Realizing there is LIFE Outside of Medicine and that there are other ways to utilize your knowledge, skills and degree to maintain or increase career and life fulfillment.  Some of my clients have often expressed that there are many things they would like to be doing outside of medicine that they never prioritize in their lives, ranging from personal interest to new business ventures.  Some are ready to transition within clinical medicine to a different type of practice, and still some want to transition out of clinical medicine completely and start new non-clinical career. Yet, there are still a large majority of physicians I’ve talked to (this is especially prominent in women) who have not discovered what they like to do outside of medicine and motherhood. They have lost themselves in their many roles.  When we realize that there is life outside of medicine, we get the big picture of life, and it allows makes it easier to take the actions necessary to create balance in our work places and lives.
  1. Setting and holding firm boundaries in the work place. This means saying no more often (especially to ridiculous requests that would never be asked of our male counterparts).   When we tolerate others railroading our boundaries, they will continue to do so.  Remember that everyone in your life is trained by you. Setting and holding boundaries is a retraining process, and there are two main areas of retraining that will be more impactful in shifting culture:
  1. Making ourselves a priority: Physicians are over-achievers by nature, and we as women physicians who are moms have the quadruple threat.  We are over achieving, overly compassionate, and self-sacrificing, and we downplay our suffering. Setting boundaries for our well-being means putting ourselves first sometimes.  It may seem like a foreign concept, but hiring a coach can help to put things into perspective and help you create your own non-negotiable self care plan.
  1. Calling Out What Doesn’t Work: This means Saying NO to the things that disempower you in the work place like condescension, conscious and bias, outright discrimination, and even sexual harassment.  Similarly, this applies to demanding equal rights and equal pay, being willing to be assertive about support needs that are available to men that may not be available to you. To avoid being labeled disruptive, it’s wise to make sure you have a good attorney to help you fully understand your rights according to your contract. As well a good coach can help you navigate the best way to communicate that disarms confrontational and condescending colleagues or superiors.

While these actions may not seem significant or irrelevant to the changing culture of medicine, each action that we take creates a ripple that which we may never see the result.  When we do take the actions mentioned above, we not only empower ourselves and other female physicians in our current generation, we model boldness, balance, assertiveness, and self love for our predecessors.  By owning our power and taking full responsibility for what we create, we can be catalysts for a long overdue transformation in the physician workforce.

Be A Part of the Solution.  If you like it, Please Share it.  And If you would like to learn more about how we create breakthroughs for physicians, visit Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician and physician wellness coach, and is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away.