My burnout story which led to my WHY3 min read

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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If you have any questions or feedback regarding this article and any of the issues it raises, or if you’d like to get in touch to find out more about fulfilling your true potential I would love to hear from you.

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