Doc­tor ad­dresses burnout


For Doc­tor Neha Sang­wan, the mo­ment she re­alised that she was about to crash and burn came 11 years into her ca­reer in medicine.

She had been liv­ing off the adren­a­line that came with be­ing a med­i­cal stu­dent and then a suc­cess­ful doc­tor with­out pay­ing at­ten­tion to her own needs.

She kept go­ing by turn­ing to caf­feine, sugar and wine - any­thing that would numb the phys­i­o­log­i­cal signs that her body was send­ing her to slow down.

Sang­wan found ways to block out those signs un­til ev­ery­thing came crash­ing down on day five of a typ­i­cal six-day shift cy­cle.

Sang­wan had asked a nurse to pre­pare some med­i­ca­tion for a pa­tient. The is­sue was that she had asked the same ques­tion of the same nurse four times al­ready with no mem­ory of do­ing so.

This was the light­bulb mo­ment. she re­alised that she needed to per­form CPR on her­self.

Sang­wan was put on med­i­cal leave and took time to re­fo­cus her ca­reer path and val­ues. She now coaches other high­achiev­ers to see the tell­tale signs of an im­pend­ing burnout in them­selves and to work to­wards greater self-aware­ness and self-care through holis­tic meth­ods.

Sang­wan is a self-pro­fessed per­fec­tion­ist and said it was those per­son­al­ity types that could get into the most trou­ble.

Her coach­ing ap­plies to those in ev­ery walk of life - par­tic­u­larly women who have been brought up in a so­ci­ety where they are trained to please oth­ers.

Ad­mit­ting to her own burnout meant she had to face em­bar­rass­ment and feel­ings of fail­ure. She wor­ried about what oth­ers would think of her and whether she was a loser.

Not ev­ery­one was un­der­stand­ing and she faced con­de­scen­sion and judg­ment from those in a pro­fes­sion where giv­ing to oth­ers comes above all else.

But Sang­wan learnt to train out the neg­a­tive voices and pay at­ten­tion to what mat­tered.

She said the ba­sic signs of burnout were ini­tial ex­haus­tion which if ig­nored could lead to cyn­i­cism and in­ef­fec­tive­ness. A few times be­fore her mo­ment of burnout, Sang­wan found her­self get­ting im­pa­tient and an­gry with the pa­tients that she was there to help.

She said to over­come those feel­ings, quiet re­flec­tion was the most im­por­tant and re­ward­ing prac­tice.


Dr Neha Sang­wan vis­ited New Zealand to talk about burnout and how to avoid it.

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