Everyone has their breaking point, but doctors — especially in the era of COVID-19 — often feel like they have no choice but to push past their burnout. Dr. Jillian Bybee, however, decided to do something about it.
“I was born and raised in a really hard-working family with a lot of perfectionism tendencies and some mental health issues like anxiety that probably were undiagnosed,” she says. “And I just achieved my way through school, through med school, through training. Kept going and didn't really pay attention to self-care. … It finally came to a head my second year [in residency] when I had a patient who ended up dying, and that derailed me.”
On this episode of the Prosperous Doc®, our host Shane Tenny, CFP® welcomes Dr. Bybee, Assistant Professor in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Director of Quality and Safety for Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Spectrum Health, to discuss what it took to finally address her work-related depression. She details the experience that opened her eyes to needing help, and why overcoming her shame and confiding in her husband was the first step she needed to get professional help.
Through her own self-care journey, Dr. Bybee discovered all the cultural issues that cause medical professionals to avoid therapy — including the idea that they must be strong “superheroes” for everyone else. Dr. Bybee explains why this mentality is dangerous, and why hospital management doesn't always respond appropriately to its resulting burnout.
Dr. Bybee also offers suggestions for people seeking resources for themselves and loved ones, including several podcasts and apps that people can use to help calm their minds.
Name: Dr. Jillian Bybee
What he does: Dr. Bybee is the Assistant Professor in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Director of Quality and Safety for Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Spectrum Health, where she strives to help medical fellows become better physicians.
Company: Spectrum Health
Words of wisdom: “If you're a superhero, you're not supposed to need to sustain yourself — you're just supposed to keep going. And that's really the culture of medicine — this grin-and- bear-it or just move on and bury-your-feelings approach. There's also this feeling that somehow it's selfish. … [But] if you're not able to take care of yourself, you certainly can't take care of other people as effectively.”
Top takeaways from this episode
★ It’s OK to not be OK. We often — especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — refer to healthcare workers as “heroes,” when in reality, they’re humans like the rest of us. That’s why Dr. Bybee says it’s especially important for these professionals to be self-aware and stop putting their mental health needs last.
★ Every physician has to figure out what works for them. Dr. Bybee acknowledges how everyone’s self-care journey is different. She notes, for example, that it’s OK if one person needs therapy but meditation alone is enough for someone else. There’s no one-size-fits-all method to overcoming burnout, which is why higher-ups saying “tell us if you need help” is often too vague to be effective.
★ Seek help from both professionals and loved ones. It can be difficult to confide in a stranger, which is why Dr. Bybee found it so cathartic to first confide in her husband about her depression — it gave her the validation and strength she needed to seek professional help. She suggests contacting friends, family, or another trusted loved one when you finally hit a wall.
[02:15] Looking inward: Dr. Bybee explains the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of burnout and the first steps she took on her self-care journey.
[06:28] Not everyone can be superhuman: Dr. Bybee discusses why the general population calling healthcare workers “heroes” during COVID-19 sort of backfired in her workplace, and how the hospital coped.
[09:59] Finding their own way: Healthcare professionals are often hesitant to take advantage of mental health resources offered to them. Dr. Bybee explains why this happens and what many of them do to cope instead.
[13:38] Coming out the other side: Going through depression and burnout — and then addressing it in therapy — has helped Dr. Bybee to anticipate when negative thoughts might creep back in.
[18:19] Sharing the knowledge: With the understanding that many of her peers face the same challenges in prioritizing self-care, Dr. Bybee discusses how her journey has inspired her to help other medical professionals.
[24:31] Adapting her approach: Women handle burnout and secondhand trauma differently from men, so Dr. Bybee explains how she alters her approach when talking to different genders. She shares how she learned even more about this gender disparity from the book “Burnout” by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A.
[27:17] Fill your toolbox with what works for you: Asked about what resources she recommends, Dr. Bybee explains the importance of therapy in conjunction with reaching out to loved ones. She also advises meditating (which she does with the help of the Ten Percent Happier app and podcast) and listening to podcasts such as Unlocking Us with Brené Brown.
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Disclaimer: Prosperous Doc podcast by Spaugh Dameron Tenny highlights real-life stories from doctors and dentists to encourage and inspire listeners through discussions of professional successes and failures in addition to personal stories and financial wellness advice. Spaugh Dameron Tenny is a comprehensive financial planning firm serving doctors and dentists in Charlotte, NC. To find out more about Spaugh Dameron Tenny, visit our website at www.sdtplanning.com. You can also connect with our host, Shane Tenny, CFP at email@example.com or on Twitter.
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