Combating burnout
June 15, 2022
Dr Emily Neville “knowing my limits helps me combat burnout”

Dr Emily Neville is an Exercise Physiologist and doctor. As a doctor, she has found herself experiencing burnout not once, or twice, but annually.

We caught up with her to get some advice for other doctors on what these experiences have taught her about taking care of your own mental health and wellbeing. 

Prior to becoming a doctor, I was an Exercise Physiologist and while I enjoyed my job I realised I could have a different and more acute impact on patient outcomes by becoming a doctor. Currently, I am an unaccredited surgical registrar in Melbourne, on my own journey towards a career in surgery.

I have experienced burnout a few times. In fact, a few of my close med friends and I joke about my annual run-in with burnout. It has taken a few goes to determine my limits and not push myself past them. I have had to learn the skill of saying ‘no’. In the first years of my career, I worked ridiculously hard, picked up everyone’s shifts, and ‘no’ was not a part of my vocabulary. I always ended up exhausted. 

I have just spent the last 4-months getting over severe burnout. The catalyst was having to work around 12 months of night shift over the last 2 years in an understaffed hospital. It was very difficult to say ‘no’ when there was no one to cover my shifts. This experience has shown me the absolute limit and highlighted the importance of support for unaccredited doctors in the public health system. 

As well as adequate support and knowing one's limits, it’s important to keep in mind your basic health needs in order to combat burnout. I think I function best with a regular sleep pattern, plenty of water and a balanced diet. A great way to do this when you are busy with work is to have food delivered. I get Marley Spoon to make sure I always have wholesome food in the fridge, plus, I enjoy cooking and it helps me wind down. After working hard, I also like to treat myself somehow (I have a soft spot for shopping and buying snow gear)! 

For me personally, staying active and very physically fit is key for my happiness. I was a competitive triathlete for a large portion of my life and sport is something I have always been involved in. When I did not have the time for exercise due to my work commitments, I almost lost a part of myself. I think fresh air, vitamin D, yoga, swimming or anything active that you enjoy is important to keep life varied and take care of the mind and body.

Reading is a great way to leave work in the hospital or clinic and transport your mind somewhere else - that’s why I don’t read medical books.  I need a break from the profession when I get home. However, I do love to read. My favourite book is ‘A Rose for the Anzac Boys’ and I am a long-time Harry Potter fan. 

The future is looking good, I am back to my active lifestyle, my fridge is full of Marley Spoon and I am almost back to a normal sleep cycle. Hopefully this year, putting myself first and setting aside “me time” for the things I love will help me stave off burnout.

Article by
Dr Emily Neville

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