Burnout, sexism in medicine, and becoming a dr influencer
Guest blog with Dr Mariam Chaalan
Combating Burnout
November 16, 2021

My name is Mariam, and I am family doctor, clinical researcher, and most importantly a mother to rainbow twin boys. I have a special interest in caring for women and young families and I am passionate about evidence-based preventative medicine and providing holistic care for all my patients. If I am not working in the clinic, you will find me improving health literacy on Instagram @ask.the.dr

Have you ever experienced burnout, if yes, can you tell me a bit about it and how you got through it?

"A series of unfortunate events.

A comedy of errors.

A magnet for misfortune.

A burning angel.

A failing flight.

An Icarus prophecy.

Oh, how she wished the world would just swallow her whole."

I wrote this piece when I was a medical registrar and it summarised how I felt for a large portion of my hospital training. Each of us working doctors has faced this problem in some way. For many of my health colleagues it's a challenge that we are beginning to realise never really goes away. It's the risk of burn out. Physically, emotionally, we get worn out. We see things, get made to do things that can put us under an immense amount of pressure.

I write this as a strong female who likes to think of herself as assertive and resilient. But even with my strong and confident attitude I would stumble and fall. There were days I would come home to an empty house following a monstrous shift and I would just sit and cry. I was tired of the anxiety that lurked deep in my belly every living moment. The fear that I would never be good enough. The fear that I would miss something important or the fear that I would be judged by my colleagues. I had moments where I would question my existence.

Working in an environment rampant and rife in sexism, bullying, and unrealistic expectations, I was always questioning myself, denigrating my strengths, and perseverating over my inadequacies. When you would ask for help, you were deemed incompetent or acopic.

So instead, I allowed the system to dictate that we are to "suck it up" that it's all part of the process of being the "better doctor". I was jaded and disappointed in a system that continued to let me down despite me giving it everything I could.

I made the decision to leave physicians training. I took some time out to locum and spent a year abroad. Travelling abroad really expanded my horizons and taught me so much about the world and more importantly about myself. It was only during that time I was able to understand how unwell and unhappy I was. I have since made some big decisions and I am quite happy with where I am now.

I remember someone once told me medicine does not have to be a one-way train ride. You can get off the train, explore other stations. That really echoed for me. I feel doctors are continually in a race to fellow that they miss so much life in the process. I honestly do feel that my experiences, although may have slowed the process of obtaining fellowship, have made me a much better and well-rounded doctor.

What do you do to look after yourself and your own mental health and wellbeing?

I now can recognise the signs of burn out early and am able to act promptly. For me those signs were exhaustion, agitation and apathy with my colleagues and patients, loss of enthusiasm for work, and a sense of hopelessness. As soon as I notice one of these, alarm bells go off and I can act promptly.

When I am at work, I have learnt historically that lunch is a must and I always schedule a break during the day. During my break, I do my best to get out of the clinic and go for a little stroll to get some sun and fresh air. We all have long and hard days, and if they do happen, I do my best to de-brief when I can with a colleague.

I have recently become quite fond of practicing mindfulness. I try to be in the moment, whether it is going for a walk, or having a coffee break. It is being totally immersed in the moment, the sounds, the colours. Just enjoying life at that very moment with no distractions. I also love to socialise with non-medical friends; it is so great to engage with company where there is no mention of faeces or sputum. I also love to write and journal, but my greatest pleasure is exercising.

Your Instagram features medical myths de-busted and medical information. What inspired you to start this account and to start sharing these things? You have accumulated quite a large social media following, what is it like being looked to as an influencer doctor?

The reality is that many people are inclined to make decisions based on things they see on social media. If the noise is loudest and most influential on these social media engines, then we health professionals need to make more effort to engage in these digital platforms to provide appropriate up to date evidence-based medicine, that is accessible to the online community

I recently started a social media page @ask.the.dr and have been using my page to bust a lot of misinformation, all while trying to improve health literacy in the community.

What is the Covid-19 situation like in your state and how is your practice handling it? You share lots of information about the vaccine on your Instagram. How has this been received?

Working through the pandemic has been tough! I do believe GPs have been bearing the brunt of the misinformation that has been circulating.

I have received mixed reviewed regarding my posts on vaccines. Many people are quite thankful for the information while some on the other hand have expressed their distaste and anger with my posts. I won’t sugar coat it, but I have received some threatening messages from anti-vaxers. At one stage, I considered deleting my account as some of the messages were quite hurtful and I could not pretend they were not affecting me.

However, for every one of these messages I was receiving many positive messages from people who were so thankful. Additionally, whilst I only provide generalist advice on my platform, I’m so thankful for those that have come forward and told me that my posts had inspired them to seek help and pick something up they would otherwise have ignored. In a way, this has helped me rediscover my love for medicine.

Instagram: @ask.the.dr

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/mariamchaalan

Twitter: @spokenmedic

Article by
Dr Mariam Chaalan

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