I turned around to grab my backpack off the chair, and walked out of the lecture hall, breathing a sigh of relief. After a long day of medical school lectures, I was looking forward to taking a break, grabbing a bite at the cafeteria before my mid-afternoon Problem Based Learning Session. As I reached the elevator, my cell-phone rang. It was my mum, sobbing, “You have to go to his office now and see if you can help. He says he is done, doesn’t want to live anymore,” she cried out.
She was referring to my dad, an accountant at a local bank, who has been battling burnout and depression for the past 6 months. I felt instantly deflated, and scared.
“What if he meant to hurt himself for real this time?”
After hastily making up a somewhat-lame, but desperate excuse to the lecturer, I ran to the subway station, in order to make the long trek to my dad’s workplace. Calling him on my phone as I ran on the pedestrian bridge, before I lose my cell-phone reception in the underground subway station – no answer!
After a long subway ride, and a shorter cab ride, I arrived at his office, rushing past the receptionist. I found him sitting on the couch in his office, with a blank stare.
After almost a year of battling deep depression and burnout, and numerous other desperate cries-for help, missing more classes, me almost failing a medical school exam from the stress and missing classes, a 3 night psychiatric hospitalization – masked as a ‘hypertension crisis’ admission, it soon became clear that he cannot continue working any longer.
In 1990s in Asia, the words “burnout”, “depression” and “suicidal” are highly stigmatized. My father retired at the age of 54 – no retirement, no disability insurance, and I was only in my 2nd year of medical school.
Our life as we know it changed overnight:
Although we are talking about these issues more broadly today, burnout and depression are still highly stigmatized in 2017 America. Increasingly, it as the pressure comes from all sides, it is snowballing and affecting more physicians.
After being in practice for the past 10 years, I am seeing more regulatory concerns I am left with: prior authorization for medications by insurance companies, early discharge for patients before 10 am imposed by administrators, quick decision-to-admit orders from patients being admitted from the Emergency Room, clinical documentation, specific billing codes…the list goes on and on. That, coupled with reduced reimbursements, more awkward work hours (nights – I hate working the night shift!).
Interestingly, as I am getting more comfortable with the practice of medicine, and getting to know my patients better, I am left with extraneous issues that seem to pile on.
With my past experiences, I am more attuned and aware of this pressing issue. The statistics are sobering: A Medscape article in June 2017 quoted studies showing 15-30% of medical residents showing depressive symptoms. An old article in JAMA in 2005 quoted that 70% higher suicide rate among male physicians, in female physicians, the rate is 250 to 400% higher.
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After finding myself getting increasingly short tempered at work and at home, I decided to start writing again. Back in my college and medical school days, writing was both an avenue to help reduce stress and also a money making venture: that was how I paid for my rent, expenses relating to USMLE, medical electives in the States and residency application expenses.
I am hoping to share experiences and to learn more from other bloggers and readers out there.
The mission of this blog:
- Educate and share resources with other physician mums on budget, physician wellness and finances.
- Provide information to International Medical Graduates on financial issues and immigration issues.
- Outlet for me to reduce stress and start writing again.
- Eventually set up a Donor Advised Fund (if I could ever monetize the blog – it is currently completely self-funded financially) to support charitable contributions in the areas of human poverty, natural disasters, education in children and global health.
- Increase personal financial awareness among young professional.
- Promote frugal living.
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