Dr. Pipas' recent FPM wellbeing article.
You can’t take care of others optimally unless you first take care of yourself. Start today.
Catherine Florio Pipas, MD, MPH
Chris is a family physician who provided the full spectrum of primary care for nearly 20 years. She delivered babies for young mothers she had taken care of since they were teens, covered hospital admissions, and took call in a small group practice. She was also a passionate teacher and leader to medical students, and she contributed to a community-based research collaborative focused on domestic violence prevention.
I worked with Chris for many years and watched her give her all to medicine. When she left her position, she felt angry, isolated, unsupported, anxious, distrusting, guilty, and worthless. These feelings didn’t develop after one bad day at work. They came after years of unrelenting chronic stress, which came like waves continuously crashing on the shore. From the outside, it may have seemed like Chris no longer cared. But she did care. She cared so much and aimed so high that it may have contributed to her fatigue and disengagement.
When Chris left in search of greener pastures, she shared that she had “nothing left to give.” She needed a fresh start. But three years into a new practice, she began having similar thoughts and feelings. The cycle was repeating. Her tank was once again near empty. We stayed in touch, and when one of her family members was diagnosed and soon died of cancer, Chris stopped working. She felt numb, absent from human functions and feelings, dehumanized. Depersonalization is what we often call it.
Chris had spent so many years taking care of so many people that she had no energy left to take care of herself. It had finally caught up with her.