Burnout: Time to get back to your true self

By Kristen Fuller, MD | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published December 21, 2022

Key Takeaways

“If I go home now and never come back, it would be okay.”

I admit that I’ve said that to myself many times in the hospital parking lot after finishing a long shift in the ER. However, I still showed up the next day to care for patients, clear my inbox, and write notes, despite feeling run-down.

"I could deal with losing my motivation in medicine by not losing touch with who I am outside of it."

Kristen Fuller, MD

Two different personas

Twelve hours a day, 5 to 6 days a week, I played the role of “Dr. Fuller,” a caring, compassionate family medicine doctor who went above and beyond for her patients, sometimes at the risk of my own happiness.

But when my shift ended and the scrubs came off, I took on the role of “Kristen,” who never turns down an opportunity to travel, loves the outdoors, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and a large crew of rescue animals.

"I may lose my motivation from time to time during my career, but I have committed to never losing my true self outside of medicine, because my true self motivates me to be better at my job."

Kristen Fuller, MD

Even though for many of us, our passion is medicine, it’s healthy to have other interests outside of our jobs. These can be projects we take on in our personal lives or those we focus on in our careers outside of bedside medicine.

Related: Real Talk: When you’re just doing it for the money

Ask yourself these questions

If you feel as though you lost your motivation—regardless of if you are in medical school, in your residency, or 15 years into your practice—ask yourself these questions.

Who are ‘you’?

What makes you you? Do you need alone time, or do you recharge from being around others? What motivated you to go into medicine? What types of things bother you? Do you need more sleep, exercise, and days off?

Make a list of the qualities and characteristics that define you as a person. Then list what makes you happy and what stresses you out.

This may be helpful to do with a partner or a therapist. Periodically refer back to this list and figure out how to connect with these parts of yourself.

Additionally, think about ways to avoid—or work through—your stressors. Often, we become so busy with our work that we forget who we are as a person outside of being a doctor, and we don’t feel that we deserve the time or space to connect with ourselves.

What do you love?

What are your passions outside of medicine? This could be anything from cooking, gardening, cycling, climbing mountains, or writing. When was the last time you engaged in them?

"Wherever you are in your medical career, stay true to yourself and set aside time to regularly engage in your interests. This will make you a happier person—and a happier doctor."

Kristen Fuller, MD

Who do you love?

You did not become a doctor by yourself; you most likely had at least one person who supported you during your medical journey.

During my residency, my mom would never call me because she thought I’d be working or sleeping and did not want to bother me. I had to reach out to her if I wanted to talk. This is not uncommon; people may not want to stress you out even more, but they want to be there for you.

Catch up with the people in your life who are important to you. You can do this while you are running errands or commuting to and from work. When was the last time you saw or called them? It will be worth the effort to do so.

Related: Real Talk: I worked so much I started to resent healthcare

Getting your motivation back

Medicine is a highly challenging career. Loss of motivation happens to many of us—maybe more than once.

But if you recognize what drives you, and take some time for yourself, you’ll hopefully be able to get out of bed each morning, head to work, and give your patients the care they need. And keep your motivation intact at the same time.

Read Next: Real Talk: I quit medicine and regretted it

Each week in our "Real Talk" series, mental health advocate Kristen Fuller, MD, shares straight talk about situations that affect the mental and emotional health of today's healthcare providers. Each column offers key insights to help you navigate these challenging experiences. We invite you to submit a topic you'd like to see covered.

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