Today’s guest lives “down under” and despite a draining schedule stayed up to join the podcast. Dr. Dana feels that facing and erasing the stigma attached to mental health issues is worth the price of sleep and we are so grateful to her.
In truth the price of sleep is very dear. Dana had packed away good years in medical school. Nothing had prepared her for the grueling grind that awaited her in a far away small facility where she felt acutely alone. The events of her first day in the facility were distressing, but she felt there was no one with whom she could share her burden.
“I couldn’t mention it to colleagues because that would be a sign of weakness. If you were weak then your bosses wouldn’t write you a good report at the end of your assessment. So you kept your head down and just kept working. We worked such long hours and were so sleep deprived. I had been going without adequate sleep and I missed an important test report. The senior doctor was not supportive; he didn’t try to help me learn from the experience or figure out how not to repeat it.”
“I was close to my breaking point. One night I broke down crying and called my parents. I told them, ‘I can’t do this.’ I had gone into medicine because my parents had pushed me into it. But they were fine with my leaving if I found that it wasn’t for me. They said they would support me in any decision I would make. My well being was more important to them than my being a doctor. Just that alone gave me the strength to keep on going.”
“I knew that I would need to develop new ways to cope with the stress and lack of sleep so that I wouldn’t crash bigtime and then have suicidal thoughts.”
“I started seeing a psychologist. I couldn’t speak to my colleagues since they were so busy putting on a facade of perfection. Everyone was too afraid to admit that they were struggling.”
“I also went to a G.P. You need a G.P. who knows what your normal is so if you veer off from normal, he or she can say, ‘Something is off here. This is not the real you.’ She didn’t want to put me on a mental health care plan because she was worried the medical board might find out and I might get investigated or deregistered. She told me to see a psychologist privately as she thought I wasn’t in danger but was suffering from acute stress.”
“In addition, I realized that I needed a regular exercise program. When I started to feel more like myself, I signed up with a life coach for six months. It helped me reprioritize things in my life.”
“I think it was the perfectionist side of me that got me into the stress. It wasn’t enough for me to excel, I needed to make it look effortless.”
Dana was willing to risk all she had put into medical school and internship to get to the truth.
“There was an article that I read that put things into perspective. I needed to deal with my situation, because it was getting worse and it was bad.
I valued myself more than I valued the glory of being a doctor. In reality, being a doctor is a job just like being a lawyer or a teacher. “
“I did not have a mentor to turn to. I wish I had had one. The only person that I exposed myself to was my best friend who was situated a five hour flight from where I lived. There was only so much support she could offer at that distance. “
“My best friend had also experienced the same stress and inability to share with others. This drove me to come up with the idea of my podcast,
Junior Doctor’s Corner. If there were other junior doctors, like me, who felt they couldn’t reach out to anyone senior, because they were afraid of the repercussions, perhaps if they heard my story, they would realize they weren’t alone. There may be bits in their life that are normal and some that aren’t. If they needed help, they should feel free to get it.”
“Interestingly, when I began my podcast, Junior Doctor’s Corner, I was awash in an overwhelming amount of support and mainly from senior doctors. It was a domino effect. I am so grateful to all my guest speakers and to the junior doctors who bravely spoke about burnout and mental illness. People broke the silence and shared their experiences.”
“The idea of doctor wellness is gaining momentum in Australia. If a parent chose not to come to me because they heard about my difficulty, then I would respect that choice. Simultaneously I would feel that they are missing out, I believe that I am a great doctor.”
“Doctors take the Hippocratic oath and swear to do their best to help heal their patients. But if the doctor is overworked and sleep deprived she/he will not be at the peak of her/his capabilities and the patient will lose out. It is a double-edged sword. A doctor must take care of themselves first in order to provide the best care for their patients.”
“ We are still experiencing roadblocks in the area of mental health. Slowly, we are chipping away at the stigma surrounding it. The President of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that when he was a junior doctor he had attempted suicide. His friends prevented him from carrying it out. When a [fellow] doctor actually carried through a suicide, this doctor felt it was time to bring it out into the open [years later].”
“I feel that there are certain things that if instituted would create a healthier environment.
Setting up a mentoring program. When I was in my internship there officially were senior doctors that filled that capacity, but in reality their overloaded schedules did not allow them to be available.
A life coach. There is one who I know that runs a program, Resilience
on the Run. I would not implement it until the student actually begins their internship. Until one experiences the pressure and tension in their own life, it remains theoretical.”
“There definitely needs to be a better conversation. That’s why I created Junior Doctor’s Corner online. It is a safe space where people can share, something they don’t feel able to do locally. [I think] hospitals are definitely afraid of hiring junior doctors who are struggling with mental illness.”
“Dr. Caroline Elton wrote a book, Also Human, in which she discussed the unique work situation about a doctor’s work environment. It’s an old issue. It needs to change.”
“Hope means that tomorrow is going to be better, no matter how horrific today was.”
I feel that all that Dr. Dana is doing will bring change around the world. Affording a safe place for doctors to feel okay about not being okay.
One can reach Dr.Dana at her website. www.juniordoctorscorner.com . Also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
I would love to hear feedback from all of you concerning choosing a doctor that you know may have or had an issue with some mental challenge.