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Mindful : October 2014
The Doctor is Not Well By Mona Gable Illustrations by Lincoln Agnew They’re among the most well-educated and highly trained people in our society. They perform a vital role in our nation’s health and stand on the line between life and death for us and for our children. They’re also very unhappy—here’s what some are trying to do about it. Five years ago, as her fortieth birthday nea red, Dr. Jodi Jacobson felt intensely unhappy. Yet she didn’t understand why. As the chief of the neonatology intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Kan- sas City, she had a deeply satisfying and challenging medical career. She and her husba nd, a successful law yer, had been married nearly 20 years. Although one of her children struggles with autism, her other t wo children were thriving. On the surface, their lives looked almost perfect. None of that mat tered. Dr. Jacobson was questioning everything about her comfortable life. Before their marriage, she and her husba nd had traveled exten- sively a nd had hoped to live overseas. After finishing medical school, she had never intended to stay in Kansas City, 45.8% of U.S. physicians report symptoms of burnout They also work an average of 10 hours more per week than other U.S . workers and are nearly twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their work-life balance. Physicians in front-line positions (family, internal, and emergency medicine) are at greatest risk. yet inertia had held her in place. She felt lost, unsure whether she even wa nted to be married any more. Although passion- ate about ca ring for sick and prema- ture babies, she found the tremendous pressures of the job and the tumultuous cha nges in health care made her irritable and depressed. “I was in crisis,” said Dr. Jacobson, a self-assured woman with intelligent blue eyes and da rk blonde curly hair. In the middle of this turmoil, she asked herself , “Do I want to change things on the inside? Or do I want to cha nge things on the outside?” This is a classic case of burnout, a now pervasive problem for physicia ns and others on medicine’s front lines. In 2012, JAMA Inter nal Medicine published the → October 2014 mindful 53 medicine