“I truly believe that if we don't take care of ourselves, we just can't take care of other people,” says Michelle Pearlman, MD.
In this video, Michelle Pearlman, MD, and Amy Pearlman, MD, explain why they left their careers in academic medicine to start a private practice. They also emphasize the importance of self-care.
Amy Pearlman, MD: I think the big thing for me was I loved my prior job. I really did. There were so many aspects of my job that I absolutely loved. But sometimes, just wanting a different opportunity is reason enough to seek out another opportunity. We go to these national meetings, and so much of the talk [at those meetings] is on burnout and [how] people are leaving health care. Rather than be reactive, I wanted to be more proactive. So when I found that I maybe wasn't getting everything that I wanted from the current job that I had, I wanted to be proactive to say, "Okay, I've been in this role for 4 and a half years. I've had an incredible experience, I've built the foundation for my career, and I'm ready to take a different direction." And I wasn't going to wait until I was burned out. Now, as I have relocated across the country and we're figuring things out, it's really been the first time in probably the past 10 or 15 years, that I don't have a schedule of work to do all day for 8 to 10 hours. And that is a beautiful thing. We were deciding when I was going to start seeing patients. I told my sister that I need a couple weeks. I've never said that before. But I said I need a couple of weeks to get settled and to figure things out. I am going to the gym, I am not stressed out. Because I know that my sister is so talented, to be honest, I've never been so carefree in my life and yet, we have so much risk right now. I've never taken so much risk in my life. But I believe in her; I believe in what we're building. And I am also saying, "You know what? I'm in my mid 30s, and I need to take care of myself." And this is how I'm going to do it. I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to sleep in a little bit later—maybe actually get up a little bit earlier, because I'm going to bed a little bit sooner. For me, that's my well-being and taking care of it.
Michelle Pearlman, MD: It's so easy to tell trainees or to tell ourselves that we can eat better, we can exercise more, but I'll tell you as faculty, I had over 300 sick days. I don't think I took a single one until I broke my wrist, because I had to have surgery. It's very easy to say, we support allowing people to take time off. I can say within health care, it's frowned upon. Not where I was, but [elsewhere], because who's going to cover my patients? Now someone's got to call 20 to 30 patients to say the doctor is sick, you have to reschedule, and then they get an appointment 6 months later. So I think as health care providers, we feel this massive guilt that even if we don't feel well and we need to make a doctor's appointment, we just can't because we're letting down so many people, and patients get upset because now they have to wait a lot longer. It's so easy to say we can do better, [but] the system—not just health care, but I think a lot of spaces—just doesn't allow it. I truly believe that if we don't take care of ourselves, we just can't take care of other people. So for me, I have always made it a priority that my health is number 1. What's interesting is that I actually wake up earlier now than I did when I actually had to be somewhere at 7 am. So for me—and this is probably not going to work for most people—I'm up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, and I have a running buddy and we go running, I do Pilates, I get ready. And I literally have nowhere to be at 7. But no one's bothering me that early. I always just made that the priority because I knew that for me, moving my body and eating well play a huge role in my mental well-being. I want to walk into the office feeling good because patients will sense that. Particularly with weight loss or other more sensitive topics, when a patient comes in, they want to feel like they're getting a warm welcome. They don't want to see a stressed out doctor. I need to take care of myself so I can take better care of patients.
This transcription was edited for clarity.