August 18, 2023
4 min read
Gunn reports no relevant financial disclosures.
As a wife, mother, community specialist and owner of an independent practice, I often am torn in millions of directions — and the pressure can be tremendous.
On Mother’s Day a few years ago, my kids presented me with a mug that read: “There are times when only mom will do.” As I reflected on the messaging and unpacked the words, I realized that sometimes I believe I am the only one equipped to handle all the things that life, family and work throw on my plate. However, feeling as if you are the only one who can do anything only forges disappointment, self-destruction and, ultimately, burnout.
The following is a typical day in the life: Running a busy clinic with multiple patient calls and family meetings, hand-stitching a hole in my daughter’s dance tights seconds before rehearsal time, getting a call from the school nurse that my son has been wheezing since recess and his inhaler is empty, grabbing a few key groceries to make dinner, picking up a refill at the pharmacy, arriving home, letting the dog out, cooking dinner (or maybe unpacking takeout, to be honest), listening to my kids lament over the school day, coercing the kids to clean up, helping with homework, answering some lingering emails, returning last-minute phone calls and finally making it to my bedroom to capture a few hours of long-awaited quiet time.
You may wonder, when will I catch a break or be able to stretch — both literally and figuratively? Too often, we in the “scrubs and heels” community can relate to the above scenario, but I am here to tell you, to avoid burnout and promote wellness you must stretch.
Just say no
A colleague of mine once told me that “no” is a complete sentence. Learn to say it unapologetically and without concern for anyone’s feelings but your own. You are the architect of your personal happiness. Only you know when you have had enough. If you do not learn to say no guiltlessly, you will never truly know the personal freedom that is yours.
For me, that was saying no to taking calls, giving up some endoscopy, focusing on the hepatology side of my training and pursuing a dedicated career in clinical research. I initially had unshakeable guilt after all my hard work training in the United States Air Force fellowship and competing with my male colleagues to be the best gastroenterologist our nation had to offer.
I later learned that being a GI does not have to look the same for everyone. We can each practice our own way and bring our patients the best we have to offer. It is when I learned to say no and craft my own path that I found happiness and my place in this specialty.
Schedule time each day for things you need to do and want to do. Be unwavering about the time you set aside and limit any distractions that could keep you from doing what you intend to complete.
Time-blocking can be liberating. It can be something as simple as giving yourself 60 minutes to do nothing but review emails, followed by 30 minutes of patient call-backs and a 20-minute meditation or devotional read. Time-blocking helps you stay on task and build-in mandatory personal time.
Rest and relax
Sleep and rest are crucial to overall well-being. You need and deserve to rest. Even if it means slipping off your heels, putting your feet up and closing your eyes for 10 uninterrupted minutes while listening to your favorite relaxing hits, you must carve the time.
A massage, sugar scrub or exfoliating facial also can help you find your Zen, and you can consistently schedule these glorious escapes as a reward.
As they say, if you do not move it, you lose it – or is it if you do not use it, you lose it? Either way, moving the body and increasing the heart rate raises endorphins that help those feel-good neurotransmitters circulate. Sometimes you need that natural high.
Plus, as we ladies age, it is more important than ever to strength train and improve muscle mass and bone density.
Turn off technology
Cell phones and computers can be both a blessing and a curse. We are so attached to our devices that we can fail to be present with our families, coworkers and friends. No one cares that you did not post a photo on Facebook today. Your Instagram and Twitter feeds can wait for you to recover from the day’s load and take some time to just be.
Find a coach
I never understood what the life coach craze was all about until I had a moment to sit with one. Many of these awesome individuals are empowered physicians or people who left executive-level careers to help people live their best lives. Perhaps counseling is not the same thing as coaching, but the two concepts truly mesh well together.
Schedule time to talk with a coach, particularly a person who may have walked in similar shoes to help you redirect and more efficiently prioritize your energies. Coaches help you shine your brightest and determine what drives your success and what might be standing in your way. I believe they equip you with healthy, actionable thoughts that lift you up both personally and professionally.
Hire help or outsource
You do not have to do it all. No one needs to know that you have a nanny or that someone washes the laundry and runs errands for you on weeknights, or that you sometimes take an Uber to work to avoid the stress of driving in traffic. You deserve to offload and treat yourself to any services that will relieve you of daily pressures and allow you to be more human, instead of a ragged hot mess all the time.
I met a man at a friend’s wedding who said to me, “If I can pay someone less than what I make per hour to do something for me, then my time is better spent not doing that thing.” At the time, I did not quite get it, but now I wish to thank him for planting that seed in my brain. It has made life so much easier.
I know I do not have all the answers and the struggle to wear our scrubs and our heels can still feel very real. However, I have learned through some difficult career challenges that, in order to wear my heels and scrubs at the same time, I must take time to stretch.
For more information:
Nadege T. Gunn, MD, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist, is also president and medical director of the Impact Research Institute and adjunct assistant professor at Texas A&M University.