Left It All to Gain Everything. A Doctor’s Story.

The first step in a physician’s quest to cure burnout

This is the continuation of my family’s story who uprooted their entire life in Charlotte, NC and moved across the world, in search for a cure to my husband’s Physician Burnout. The tale is not finished, it has only begun. But it exemplifies how this move was the crucial first step necessary in the healing process.

A Background Entangled in Life’s Irony:

During the last four years, while living in a naturally calm city, our personal lives were shaken by emotional earthquakes of various magnitude resulting from the tension that rose out of the fault lines created by physician burnout. In a desperate attempt to regain calmness in our lives, we moved to Wellington, New Zealand. In the most geologically active and unstable environment in the world, we found peace and balance in our lives. This drastic change in environment cleared the path for healing. But how and why?

Step One, Changing the Context:

A life designer Anca Iorgulescu put it best, “Our soul is designed to be at peace. To find the recipe for peace, you must uncover what brings you joy.” To find if specific things, such as, say orthopaedics, brings you joy, you must set the context. Before redesigning a serene lifestyle, John had to answer a key question: Is there joy left in orthopaedics?

The Charlotte Context

The Charlotte Context had too much clutter, and the search for peace was constantly obstructed. Material things and lifestyle accumulated over the years became a hinderance. Furthermore, in Charlotte and the US, there is an overwhelming pile of demands in the medical field: electronic medical records, surgery centers, government imposed standards, team physician responsibilities, various committees, and the financial race against the monthly analysis report. These items and more, often overshadow the essence of medicine and lead to burnout.

The New Zealand Context:

In New Zealand, the context has changed. The life and people of NZ do not covet stuff, are not interested in social standing, kids are not raised to measure success in riches, outward appearances are not praised on magazine covers or plastered on billboards. (The few magazines on the stands are from UK, Australia, or US). The Kiwis embrace imperfections, accept their age, and understand complications of living and aging. They push living to the limits, but accept the consequences. With this comes a respect for physicians as humans. The doctors are expected to do their best, to improve, not necessarily perfect. For example, a perfect 20 year old knee is not the goal of knee replacement in a 60 year old man. Return of function is praised and side effects are expected with this type of surgery.

Furthermore, John was a very successful partner with his practice in the US. Along with it, came all the aforementioned distractions. Here in NZ, he is a temporary replacement, known as a locums tenens. This means he is not running departments or surgery centers, has no team physician commitments, there are no committees, and there is no financial race. Moreover, the medical documentation is minimal. The final decision for surgery is made by the Medical Council based on various criteria. Patients accept this and there is no push back on the surgeons. Operating rooms for elective cases (non urgent cases) close at 4pm and working until the late hours of the night is frowned upon and not permitted in the public system. Medicine is practiced for the good of the patients, not as a reaction to a legal system or imposed government standards. Surgeons operate without quotas and financial pressures. The partners discuss cases weekly, aid one another on difficult cases, and team effort supersedes competition. I am not suggesting that the system is perfect, far from it. But the point is, the path has been cleared of all the extras that come with practicing medicine in the US, of all the excess that comes with living a fancy lifestyle, and practicing medicine in its purest form came into focus. John found the answer to the question he has been asking for so many years.

Summarizing 700 words:

The context has changed. The layers of distraction have been removed. John found joy in orthopaedics again. Peace has been regained.

Step Two, Reconstructing a Peaceful Life:

Now that the burned out surgeon found joy in his art, how will he redesign his practice and life in the US? I have no idea! But I am down here in the trenches being toughened up by the Kiwis, and will let you know as the story unfolds.

Make this year, they year of finding of fulfilment, of joy, peace, and purpose — author unknown. Ana-Maria Temple, MD


Originally published at mc2charlotte.com on January 7, 2017.

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