By Kim Resnick
I tug on my white tennis skirt nervously. The man (no doubt) who insisted that white tennis clothes were de rigueur at my new tennis club should be tarred and feathered. These hips simply don’t work in white Lycra; I am conscious of every lump, bump, and ridge.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Kim. Relax and follow through on your forehand,” my new coach grins as he critiques.
The sweat sluices down my back, pooling at the top of my waistband as I hop across the court chasing serves, wondering why I decided to learn a new sport at my age- and with my career choice. I turn around to make certain that no one is behind me as I lunge after another ball.
I am a successful surgeon. I am a Division Director at a large, tertiary care center. I am a mother of 2 adorable, (and I think) well-adjusted children. I am newly divorced- yet still standing after the pain of the split up. I tick these facts off in my head. And I am having angina on this tennis court as a way to combat the inevitable burnout that begins when our coping skills turn maladaptive or simply cease to work.
Burnout describes the literal depletion of our physical, emotional, and social lives that may occur when we don’t allow time for repletion. Dike Drummond, in his piece “Physician Burnout: Why it is not a Fair Fight,” notes the tendency that medicine has to push all other life priorities to the side1. This inherent tension between the work/life balance tends to span our entire career, and worsens as we get older. It is when the balance of the scales tip that we tend to view food, alcohol, sedentariness, and isolation as ways to cope with imbalance.
This scale tipped precipitously out of my favor while in the throes of my divorce. Ten hour OR days became the norm as I struggled to isolate myself from the rest of my life. My 5 am boot camp fell quickly to the wayside as I was simply too fatigued. My new “skinny” jeans were kicked to the corner of the closet as I turned to staple comfort foods. I justified it by claiming that I simply did not “have time for me.” I was depleted.
And then I took control of my life. I left my first position for a new academic career about which I felt passionate. Gone were the 30 hours per week spent in the OR. Exercise, which has a well-known anti-stress effect, has become part of my routine once again. Weight lifting twice weekly and once weekly tennis lessons have miraculously restored my own stores of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. I discovered a passion for cooking for my family. I am more comfortable in my own skin. My core feels stronger, I have more confidence. I am a better mother and a better physician.
We can turn this fight into a fair one. We can pro-actively replete our emotional, physical and social stores. We can become the caretakers we were meant to be only when we start with ourselves.
Dr. Kimberly Resnick, MD is the division director of Gynecology Oncology at Metrohealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.
One Reply to “Starting Over, with Ourselves”
I am struck with how poorly we are prepared to deal with burn out – not only within ourselves, but also when seeing it in our colleagues. There is so little flexibility in the system to find ways to help relieve pressure as we see burn out coming. Stress to perform, make RVU’s, meet quality pressures and packed days make it hard to pick up some slack for someone or give some one a bit of a break.
Would love to hear if other institutions/individuals are finding ways of PREVENTING burn out when we see early warning signs?
We need to find a way to keep ourselves and our colleagues and our trainees healthy.