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Internal medicine physician and mom of 4

Put up or shut up

Many people have felt it necessary to comment on my choice of career of late.   One of my own (Dr. Karen Sibert) has published an editorial in the NY Times chastising me and thousands of other women for choosing a balance between work and life.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/opinion/12sibert.html

I'd like to set the record straight on something.  I do not have an obligation, moral or otherwise, to work full time as a physician.  I do not "owe" society my life, my happiness, my balance, my being.  I am a better physician when I have some time away to replenish the well. 

Today for morning report, a graduating resident presented "self-care for the physician", a review of physician burnout, contributing factors, and mitigating approaches.  As each resident and faculty member went around the room and described their approach to handling the daily stress of being a physician, it occurred to me that these times they are a changin'.  As our program director put it, "It's amazing to me that we are sitting in this room talking about and naming something that we all experienced throughout our training and careers - and better yet, teaching and learning skills to identify and care for burnout in ourselves and our colleagues."

My med school class was about 50% women.  However, nearly 70% of my graduating class answered "part time or half time" to the survey question "what do you anticipate your career looking like 10 years after graduation?".   Why is this?

The study of physician burnout is not new.  There are studies quoting things like "nearly 40% of surgeons don't feel their career affords them enough time for themselves or their family".  There are new terms like "compassion fatigue" (shockingly similar to PTSD) to describe what happens when doctors lose the ability to care.  Like an overused muscle, our emotions simply quit.

It is not just women who are transitioning to or planning on a part-time career in medicine.  It is physicians of all ages, genders, and specialties.  The daily stress of being a trusted healer responsible for the lives of others can be unbearable. 

It is unfortunate that anyone feels the need to attempt to impose some ridiculous morality on me.  I'm not sure why so many people have suddenly become interested in my career choices, but I can guarantee you that a well-rested and balanced physician is who I want taking care of me and mine. 

You want to change the face of health care and do something to make strides toward lessening the physician shortage?  I can think of hundreds of ways to do it without attacking the future of medicine and placing blame on those of us who choose to see the marathon at the end of the sprint. 

Women in medicine are not the problem.  On the contrary, we can be the solution - if we work together, support each other, and offer a hand to those reaching up to follow in our steps.  

So no, I am not going to work full time as physician.  What I owe society, and myself, is to be the best doctor I can be.  How I accomplish that, the reasons behind my choices for work-life balance, the number of kids I choose to have, and the countless other personal decisions I have the right as a working American to make are simply none of anyone else's business.
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