It seemed like just yesterday, I had sat in a posh auditorium in Chicago as an enthusiastic young adult during my first day of medical school orientation. Eighteen years later, I was a forty three year old burned out physician doing google searches on the most effective way to commit suicide.
During my last several years of practice, each day seemed like a monumental struggle similar to that of the Greek mythological character of Sisyphus. I tried simply to survive each over scheduled jam packed clinical day, but it was fruitless since I would just have to go through the same ordeal the next day and the day after that. Like Sisyphus, I felt condemned by the burden of rolling a heavy boulder up a monumental hill only to have it roll back down again for the rest of eternity.
I stopped by a patient’s room and informed him that an MRI had confirmed that he had a mild stroke. When the patient tried to elicit more information, I grew frustrated because I was behind schedule and felt I had already provided the patient with the pertinent information. The patient then began to cry and I just became exasperated, frustrated because the matter was taking up a lot of my time. I later looked back and was devastated by my conduct. But I simply had no empathy reserves left.
In my residency clinic, we were all feeling pretty burned out when someone commented that they had a ‘no-show’ because the patient had died. Several of us said we wished we could be so lucky. Why can’t one of my patients die so I can have 15 minutes to catch my breath. This is pretty far from how I felt when I wrote my medical school application essay. Or how I’d like to feel as a caring human being.
“My wife is really in a dangerous place. She comes home from work exhausted and angry. She hates medicine. We have two kids and one of them is old enough to know something is wrong with mommy. Her unhappiness is impacting our entire family.”
“I look at medicine as a jail sentence. I’m 43 right now and if I play my cards right and save well and work like a madman, I will be get out of prison around age 60.”
Dr. Tom Murphy draws on his experiences and research to tailor customized presentations on physician burnout awareness and solutions for medical societies, healthcare organizations, and training programs. He also partners with organizations and training programs to implement solutions for burnout at an institutional level.
Personal contact to Dr. Tom Murphy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org