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Women Physicians Speak Out About Life’s Stressors

WMDR February Poll Results Are In, Surprising and Informative!

women speak outPhysician burn out is a “hot” topic.  With upwards of 80% of physicians reporting signs and symptoms of stress, and the highest levels of burn-out ever, this is a burning issue.  To put this in prospective, women physicians report burn-out symptoms at a rate of 2:1 compared to their male colleagues.  We might speculate on all the reasons, and even on which reasons top the list, but instead we decided to find out what was on your list.

And what we found was not exactly what we thought we would find.  See what you think. And then, consider some ways you might reduce the stress in your life.

Thirty-two women gave 71 answers:
1.  Too much to do, not enough time.  (25%)
2. Balancing personal life with professional life (18%)
3.  Expectations I put on myself (16%)
4.  Expectations of other (12%)
5.  Pulled in too many directions (10%)
6.  Exhaustion  (5%)
7.  All of the above (10%)

Though non-scientific, non-validated this survey raises some interesting issues.  Too much to do and not enough time edged out professional and personal work life balance.  Obligations without adequate time causes stress.  No one likes working under the gun, so to speak.

As expected, balance of the professional and personal continues to be stressful.  But close behind were expectation management!  Women physicians find it stressful to fulfill their own and other’s expectations.  We need to know what these are and make them more manageable.

Being pulled in too many directions is a typical over-achiever stressor.  And being tired is a chronic problem for everyone.  Slowing down, relaxation, downtime are compounded by sleep deprivation, all leading to exhaustion.

Most disturbing was that 10% reported all of these reasons as stressors in their lives.  That means burn out is not far behind, or perhaps already present.  This is cause for serious concern, and I hope if one of you reads this post, that you get some professional help in re-aligning your priorities and your lives.  We don’t want to lose even one of you to the ugly statistics of women physicians who quit medicine and even worse.

What can we do?  Here are five suggestions from WMDR (in no particular order):

  1. Make time for yourself–everyday.  Listen to books on tape while driving to work.  Do a 20 minutes yoga routine when you wake or before you go to bed.
  2.  Make sure you take a break during the dayTake care of yourself–make sure you have something you call your own.  A  book club, a weekly (or more) exercise class.  An evening off that belongs to you alone.
  3. Exercise–this is the best stress reliever that I know.  Whether you buy some exercise DVDs (yoga, pilates, aerobics and many, many more)–you don’t need to belong to a gym.
  4. Be kind to yourself–you don’t have to be the “e-woman”–everything to everyone, every time and every where.  Outsource more, give up what you don’t like or want to do.  No one is going to judge you negatively for being smart about your own needs, especially when a less stressed, happier you is the result.
  5. Define what “having it all” means to you.  No better place to start than with WMDR’s Woman Physician’s Playbook–soon to be found on our new and updated website–stay tuned!

2 Notes

  1. Thank you, Dr. Helane Fronek for your comment and for your reference to Dr. Brown. Definitely a resource to investigate. I also want my readers to know about your blog, which I checked out this morning. Definitely a worthwhile read!
    Hope we hear from you often.

  2. Linda, I want to applaud your article on burnout – a very “hot” topic indeed! Women physicians usually wear so many hats, and we certainly didn’t get where we are by not holding ourselves to high standards. So it’s no wonder that so many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed because we truly don’t have enough time for all of the things we expect ourselves to do. There is much to be learned from the work of Brené Brown, PhD, a Social Work Professor at the University of Houston who studies shame and vulnerability. You can check her out at, or read her excellent books (Daring Greatly is her last one). The sort of perfectionism that you describe in your “e-woman” is a type of addiction based on our continuing need to be acknowledged for our accomplishments, rather than truly showing up in life as who we are and knowing that our unique contributions in life are enough. Brené explains that our human need for love and connection will never be satisfied as long as we expect ourselves to be perfect. Even if people seem to like and accept us, we don’t believe it’s really us who they are liking and accepting! You have listed many excellent ways to go about regaining a sense of ourselves amidst our crazy-busy lives. As a physician coach, I have been impressed that it doesn’t take much for my clients to feel better in their lives – even meditating for 5 minutes a day can make a big impact. And as you alluded to, being more reasonable about our expectations of ourselves is a great start. Thanks for the thought-provoking and timely blog and all of your great practical suggestions.


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