Ruchit N. Shah
Burnout and occupational stress are quite common among physicians and is considered, by many leading experts, to be a “ public health crisis.”
At the World Congress of Gastroenterology at ACG 2017, Carol A. Burke, MD, vice chair of the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition at Cleveland Clinic, presented the results of a survey of more than 700 gastroenterologists that revealed almost half of the respondents experienced burnout.
Results of the 60-item survey, which was emailed to more than 11,000 ACG members, demonstrated that a work-life balance was more likely to contribute to burnout than practice-related issues.
“Burnout has serious implications on the GI workforce, and strategies and resources need to be addressed to increase the success in both the physician’s personal and professional life,” Burke said during her presentation.
In this guest commentary, Ruchit N. Shah, DO, a third-year internal medicine resident at Geisinger Medical Center, discusses burnout, the importance of a positive work-life balance, and how his loved ones have played a significant role in keeping him grounded.
Work-life balance is subjective, and it depends on how everyone defines it for themselves. I believe everyone can mostly agree that if they can find enough time to be a good physician, but also have an equal amount, if not more, to do the things they enjoy, that it can equate to a positive work-life balance.
Prior to starting my residency, I lived almost 3 hours from home. Every moment I had a day off – which was usually a Saturday or a Sunday – I would drive straight home immediately after work and spend time with my friends and family. Initially, a lot of my colleagues thought I was crazy leaving to go home to then driving back the next day.
They would ask me, ‘How do you manage going home every weekend, driving 5 hours, and still being sane at the same time?’ I used to tell them that’s what kept me sane and prevented me from burning out. That was the definition of my work-life balance. When I was at work, I would focus all my energy and time on being the best resident that I possibly could be, and then the moment I knew I had a day off, I would capitalize and get away from it all to spend time with my friends, my fiancée (now my wife), and my parents. Spending 6 hours with them felt like an entire weekend, and I’d go back and do it all over again the next week. That being said, I really enjoy spending time with my resident colleagues as well. On days when the majority of us would have time off, I would stay back and spend it with them. Just as much as my friends and family back home, my residency was also a part of me, and they too helped me maintain a good work-life balance. Geisinger was home away from home.
Getting married and trying to present research
Very early on during the first year of residency, my clinical and research experiences had geared me toward a career in gastroenterology. I approached Harshit S. Khara, MD, who is the director of endoscopic and translational research at Geisinger, with a study idea that I felt wasn’t something that had been studied often. I went up to him as a brand-new intern and proposed studying the impact of statins in patients with acute pancreatitis. He was immediately onboard with it. This project was my “baby” and after working on it throughout my intern year, I felt very proud and honored when the study was selected to be delivered as an oral presentation at Digestive Disease Week in San Diego. The support from the entire GI department including the fellows, staff physicians, and even some of the endoscopy nurses was phenomenal and kept me motivated.
The second half of my second year of residency was dedicated mostly to wedding planning. Yet, I found the time to get a lot of important research work accomplished. I got married during the same weekend as Digestive Disease Week. I was scheduled to deliver my oral presentation on Monday, the day after my wedding and had booked tickets to San Diego the night of my wedding. Yes, that’s right. My friends still joke around wondering if I love GI more or my wife. The answer is my wife, of course. Towards the end of the wedding day, my wife and I were taking pictures and saying goodbye to all of our guests. We get to the airport and everything was on schedule for us to make it to San Diego in time for me to lead the presentation I was scheduled to give.
We’re sitting on the flight, and I’m in the middle of practicing my presentation with my wife – who happens to still be in her wedding outfit and has all of her makeup on – and suddenly the pilot comes on to say we’ll be delayed a little because of the air conditioning. Then, we get even more news that there’s a big storm crossing our flight path and unfortunately, we’re unable to find any flights to get out.
I’m fortunate to have a wife, who is also a physician, who supported me and my research and made so many sacrifices to see my succeed.
Luckily, I had briefed my research mentors at Geisinger about the presentation and emailed the PowerPoint to Dr. Khara from the flight. Once again, I am very fortunate to have a mentor like him. He presented the study for us and we ended up receiving a Certificate of Recognition for the same.
Our original plan was to fly to San Diego on Sunday after my wedding, present on Monday, and fly back home on Monday night, only to fly to India for our reception on Tuesday. It would have been very hectic, but it was something I had been looking forward to for a year and a half. While I was disappointed that I didn’t get to make it to the meeting, the series of events served as a reminder of how fortunate I was to be able to have such amazing mentors in the field.
Having a support team
My wife and I met in high school, went to the same undergraduate college together, attended the same medical school, and are now in residency together (she went on to get her masters so she’s the smarter one).
The support my wife, my family and my family within the gastroenterology and internal medicine departments at Geisinger have given me has been extremely important.
Our program designated wellness time for its residents. Everyone is aware of the fact that physician burnout is a huge national crisis, and I’m lucky to be a part of a team that has been revolutionary with the way residents’ schedules are designed. Our program director, Lauren DiMarino, DO, along with the entire leadership team has been phenomenal in tending to the needs of their residents, both academic and personal.
The fact that I had my wedding, the chief residents went above and beyond to make sure that my schedule was taken care of, that my clinic patients had some physician to see while I was gone. In fact, they even tried to work out an extra day for me where I could go watch my wife graduate from medical school and hood her on her special day. Small things like that travel a long way.
Promoting a work-life balance
Every time there was a research conference I wanted to attend, Geisinger tried to make sure I had the funding and time off to attend. I was encouraged to participate in research and was able to partake in those scholarly activities while working, which left my off-days free to spend with my family. Whereas my inner drive and motivation helped me stay on track, the support from my residency helped me take it a step further.
It is crucial for physicians, especially those in residency, to be a part of a program that has collegiality, where everyone works together and there’s always someone to watch your back. Physicians needs to work as a team and promote an environment where work-life balance is a priority, because things like that, such as with my wedding, reduce the risk for burnout.