My burnout story which led to my WHY

by Dr Olivia Ong

Fellow medical doctor, I was once like you, overworked and overwhelmed.

I was on the verge of burnout and in dire need of change. I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, stuck in my situation, and completely isolated and invisible in my suffering.

The combination of living with a spinal cord injury, motherhood, full-time work, and studying for fellowship exams exhausted me. I ignored the warning signs of burnout such as becoming overwhelmed, constantly worrying and stressed over small things and not sleeping well. I felt disconnected from myself and others around me. 

Yet I kept pushing through. 

I thought admitting to burnout would mean showing vulnerability and weakness.

Until eventually, I was burned out.

I’m not a psychologist. What does any self-respecting academic do when they don’t understand something? I got a book on burnout! Not just one, but dozens! This may not surprise you, but I’m a classic overachiever. Unfortunately, I already knew the advice I found in those books. Setting boundaries, resting, I got it. I knew that. It didn’t work for me.

You might be asking, what is burnout?

Burnout is defined as a state of being exhausted, overwhelmed, and struggling to cope, often in the context of severe stress and high ideals.

It happens when there is a mismatch between the resources we have, and what we are trying to do.

Burnout is not just an individual problem to be addressed by individuals, it’s caused by a multitude of factors including workplaces and organisations.

I have spoken to many, many doctors and they describe several common experiences of burnout, which they attributed to these root causes:

  • Anxiety eg. about passing exams, debt or financial issues
  • Putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own –> compassion fatigue
  • Work-related conflict with supervisor or colleagues
  • Relationships issues with partner and children
  • Fear of failure, imposter syndrome (freebie link)
  • Being overworked, travelling to multiple hospitals every day, working late, working un-rostered overtime
  • Juggling exams, work and relationships
  • Traumatic patient stories –> vicarious trauma

But guess what? We don’t have live this way anymore…

I have visions of the doctor and mother I want to be. So do you…

Deep down I knew there had to be a way how I could build my career while growing my family and become the leader and mother I envisioned myself to be – all without the burnout.

In 2020, I wanted to rediscover the passion in my work, restore my mental and emotional wellbeing, and reconnect with my family, my inner self, and my identity beyond the physician.

I discovered self-compassion and creative development tools. They helped me thrive at home and at work. I also learnt how I could take ownership of my thoughts to gain a whole new perspective.

Not only was I not willing to live with fatigue and overwhelm, but I knew that If I could change, so could others.

I’ve seen many of my medical colleagues burn out. Did you know more than 40% of doctors—and almost 50% of female physicians— feel burnt out*?

I realised I could help medical peers like you discover these heart-based tools for yourself so you can rediscover your self-worth and lead the heart-centered life you truly deserve. I want to help you find your spark of joy and creativity outside medicine.

So I became a leadership and career advancement coach for medical doctors so that I could teach the same tools that changed my life.

We need more heart-centred doctors in medicine.

Helping medical doctors around the world to lead the heart-centred life they truly deserve without the burnout.

This is my driving force.

I was determined to find the way, and I did. Find out how I can help you bring balance to your life and your career too by getting in touch, I would love to help!


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