The Positives from the Pandemic

Dr Jo Braid shares an essay she wrote for a medical literary prize.

Sit back and relax and listen to a story read for you. Just like stories round the fire at Christmas time (in the UK!).

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Hosts & Guests

Dr Jo Braid


Podcast Transcript

Hi, my name is Dr. Jo Braid and I am the Burnout Recovery Doctor. I help health care professionals overcome burnout and get that energy back. So whether you’re a med student, allied health professional, or a doctor who is suffering from feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, you’re in the right place. In this podcast, you’ll get your energy back through strategies for burnout recovery. This show will give you the practical tips and mindset strategies to help you recover from burnout in health care. 


Are you ready? Let’s dive in.


Today I’m going to read a story that I wrote in October this year. I wrote it as a submission for the Australian doctors Health Conference literary prize. Now I didn’t get shortlisted in the end, but I really enjoyed writing this article which is said in the third person, but it’s really about yours truly and my experience that I had. 


So, here we go with the positive from the pandemic. 


As Annabelle crossed the threshold, she knew there would be no human contact for a long two weeks. Putting down her suitcases. She looked out of the windows to view stretching above the buildings of the inner west of Sydney with the hazy lower Blue Mountains in the far distance. Her loved ones were only three hours drive beyond the mountains, so much closer to where she had just been. 


The saga had started two months prior when she received the dreaded phone call from her home country, the UK that her mother had cancer. Annabelle had pleaded with the Border Force government department to travel to England and stay with her mother for a month. 


The first application was rejected, which was galling for her. She had come to Australia to work as a doctor almost two decades ago and set up a life for herself. Yet in this moment, she didn’t have the freedom to leave. Annabelle was approved to travel with her second application and breathed a sigh of relief. Her mother had been diagnosed with lymphoma at the start of 2021. In the past two months, she had been hospitalised twice with repeated pneumonia after chemotherapy started. She was still in hospital when Annabelle got on the almost empty air bus. Her mother had been widowed less than a year ago and was coming to terms with so much. 


With different quarantine rules in the UK. Annabelle was able to go straight to her mother’s home, the family home driven by her brother from Heathrow Airport with masks on. She intended on setting a few things up for her mother’s return but fell asleep at 6pm unable to stay awake any longer. 


Her mother self discharged at 9pm that Sunday evening and was sitting at the breakfast table with Annabelle and her brother the next morning. An unexpected and so welcome start to her stay. Overall the trip was a great success with In Home rehabilitation by Annabelle, a specialist in rehabilitation medicine. For four weeks. She left a freezer filled with homemade meals and a much more energetic and capable mother in her own home. 


The fortnight in quarantine was one of the unchangeable conditions of international travel at that time. So what was Annabelle to do with her time in hotel quarantine, walking around the hotel room doing yoga and live streamed Pilates classes. She played her violin and had a couple of lessons by zoom. Of course, she had daily video calls with her family and watch Netflix series she had never got around to. She thoroughly enjoyed the mindset themes shared in the TED lasso series and finished it in two days. But work in this situation and environment was opening the Pandora’s box to being available to private patients in this once in a lifetime period. Telehealth had been easier to do since the pandemic and lockdowns she had time on her hands and knew her patients waiting list was building up while she had been away. It was time to be decisive and intentional. 


This was two weeks in the country she now lived in without the usual family routine and work routine, but not a holiday either. At times it did feel like a retreat minus the woodland walks and sharing stories by candlelight. With this space to reflect without any dependents under the same roof. She gained awareness of what was no longer a low stress part of her career, rather a source of high stress. It was impacting on her self esteem, her satisfaction with work and connection with her family. The source was her private clinical practice. At times, she thought she was less efficient than she had been. Sometimes she could not answer all the queries patients, brought to their consults and was disappointed in herself. She had always had high self expectations, and this translated into every area of her life. Wondering if she really made a difference to those who chose to consult with her, she became cynical about her work. She had never mentioned this to anyone, not even her husband, also a medical practitioner. Keeping her cards close to her chest. She hid emotions under the carpet so she wouldn’t really feel them will show them. Her kids may have picked up on some changes, or the way she was might have been all they had ever known in their mum. 


Was this what burnout looks like?


Brown paper bags with repetitive food offerings were dropped at her door three times a day. She had been instructed to wait 10 seconds before opening the door to allow the delivery person to walk away. The first few times she did see a human in full PPE, went for COVID swabs done on day two and day 10 Hardly the time to look forward to being within two metres of another human friend dropped food parcels at the front door of the hotel. These fresh homemade offerings were so gratefully received with a sense of support from outside. 


This space and time was a place to process what had been on autopilot for the past five years, and the option of quitting had never occurred to her. It just wasn’t the thing to do in a career where you’d invested years of time, given up nights of sleep, paid a significant amount of money for training and growing your identity to be 100% related to work. There never was electronic medical school that informed you what to do with the emotions created through the scenarios you’re exposed to. What to do with what was hidden behind the professional persona had got stuck inside her. Annabelle got over the jetlag and realised this was a fundamental moment in time for her and her medical career. 


She would continue her public hospital work part time, but cease her private medical practice by December that year. Yes, others might be disappointed in her including family, colleagues and patients. But this was her life and career and she wanted to determine how it would continue. 


She could not control how others felt about her decisions. 


The previous year, Annabelle had enrolled in a coaching programme through a physician coach based in the USA. Every week she had a 15 minute one on one session with a coach. She started to become aware of why she did what she did and didn’t do. appreciating how her feelings drove the decisions she made. Talking about thoughts and feelings was a whole new concept that she hadn’t been exposed to in her medical training, at least not on a personal level, perhaps in psychiatry for diagnostic purposes. 


One of the biggest changes was that of self judgement to self compassion. It needed frequent practice to make the changes to stop the self deprecating mind chatter to one of kindness and acceptance, Annabelle increased her understanding and naming of her range of feelings. Realising that life is not all happy, joyful moments. The negative feelings like discomfort, courage and fear were normal and part of life. These feelings were okay to feel and process and they could be helpful in moving forwards. 


During the fortnight in hotel quarantine, she continued to receive coaching sessions via zoom. It was a safe space to express what was going on to a non judgmental non opinionated coach who mirrored his thoughts back to her and helped her see her blind spots. There was always a different conversation to that with a good friend relative or her partner, who nearly always brought their opinion and advice. 


After almost a year of being coached by inspiring and experienced position coaches, with results beyond what she had expected, Annabelle decided to invest In coach certification herself, she was always curious as to how things work and the tools used in coaching and treat her as a client and she was not fully privy to what the methodology was.


The coaching certification was delivered virtually, and she made a range of peers also in healthcare from around the world. It was intense with live assessments via zoom in front of peers and her mentor. One main difference with medical training and coach training was that failure was encouraged. trying out new things before one felt ready and seeing what happens was normalised it was a safe, refreshing space where she felt welcomed. Once she had finished the certification, she was clear in her next steps. Rather than just using this new skill set for herself, she knew she wanted to share the tools with others as a coach for healthcare professionals. Athletes and executives had coaches but coaching doctors wasn’t commonplace yet. The clients she coached were often overwhelmed and wanting something to change to relieve them have this feeling that would wake them in the night and greet them with the alarm clock. They judge themselves harshly and related to achieving goals through pain and strife. They had high expectations of themselves just like Annabelle had, and hadn’t yet considered any other way. Imposter Syndrome turned up time and time again in these individuals with incredible intelligence and success. Despite thinking to talent police were around the corner. They expressed relief at learning about the human way in a different practical way than all the anatomy, neurology and psychiatry lectures had taught them that we are wired to be cautious, seek pleasure and minimise energy expenditure if at all possible. Any easy source of a dopamine hit was exactly what the reptilian brain was searching for. And yet the prefrontal lobes were the source of higher thinking and allies in managing our minds. by anticipating what might go wrong, what might be an obstacle along the way and making a plan for it, we could stay one step ahead of our primal urges. 


For Annabelle, she had stepped outside the norms of her profession and added a new string to her vote. She maintained her clinical practice in a public hospital and offered fellow physicians a place to grow into a more confident, energised and satisfied version of themselves. The meaningful event in her life had been the fortnight in hotel quarantine. 


This was a turning point in her life, where she paused and reflected and decided to do something different. Annabelle believed that by coaching health care professionals, she connected with them as a peer facilitator. They created change in their own lives in a way she had never felt able to do as a doctor in medicine. It was a gift she had, and she could share it with the world. 


Thanks for listening.


Thank you for tuning in to the burnout recovery podcast. If you liked what you heard, please hit subscribe and head on over to my website at . There you can download my free guide with 10 tips to take if you’re nearing burnout. See you next time!