“It feels like a war zone out here. I am just trying to survive.”

“I don’t know the woman physician I am referring to and would like to.”

The stress and desire of women physicians, in private practice and as hospital employees in Lane County, is reflected in these words.

Changes in our healthcare system are dramatically affecting the day-to-day work lives of most physicians. A 2012 study in Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that nearly half of U.S. physicians report at least one symptom of burnout, such as growing cynical or losing enthusiasm for their work. Forty percent of doctors surveyed were unsatisfied with their work-life balance and did not have sufficient time to devote to their families or personal lives.

A Circle for Women Physicians

It is helpful to note differences in how women deal with the challenges of work-life stress. Although men often enjoy casual interactions, such as team sports, women prefer smaller, more intimate groups. In her book, The Millionth Circle, psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen speaks to the benefit women experience when they gather in a small group. Through listening, witnessing, role modeling, laughing and drawing on the shared experience and wisdom of the group, women in circles support each other and themselves through talking.

Early in 2012, my personal physician lamented the current absence of past bag lunch gatherings for women physicians. She missed the opportunity to meet and be with other women physicians. This interaction sparked my interest in starting a group of women physicians again. Professionally I teach leadership skills to physicians, so I assumed women physicians would want to gather around a leadership agenda. I was wrong. The women physicians I interviewed expressed that, given their current stress levels, what they really needed first was a fun, relaxing way to be with other women doctors regularly.

“The Women’s Circle helps me to not feel so isolated, to feel part of a bigger community of women all trying to do the same thing, the nearly impossible. We are all trying to build a career, raise a family, and nurture a relationship with our significant others”… (and take care of ourselves ­— often in that order!)

This sentiment captures why women show up for the monthly Women’s Physician Circle. The Circle is a place for women physicians to be in community, share stories about life and work as physicians, and explore solutions with their peers. Over the past two years topics included:

  • Welcoming new physicians into the community and sharing resources
  • Strategies to deal with office conflict and abusive patients
  • How to re-charge your battery when you come home so tired you can only sit on the couch

Physicians look to one another for help, but at times, they don’t have the answers. Periodically I weave skill-building discussions into our monthly meetings on useful topics:

Effective feedback

  • Conflict management
  • Negotiation skills
  • How to say no

Our Keys to Success

As facilitator of the Circle, my role is to create a safe environment for women to share their experience as physicians.  Confidentiality of what we share is expected, and everyone is given the opportunity to speak. Although the Physician’s Women Circle is not therapy, healing does happen. Start your own Circle to support your community of women physicians. Just ask and I will gladly share my experience with you!

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