Dr. Errin Weisman is a family medicine physician married to a farmer in rural Indiana, and a mother of three. She reached out to me via a friend in the close-knit community of physician bloggers. Errin's experience with burnout in clinical medicine led her to a dark place where her "soul felt broken."
Working with a life coach, she dug out of her rut to create a life that balanced her personal well-being and obligations to her family, reinventing her career as a physician in the process. Erin started out "dabbling" in emergency medicine, and currently practices telemedicine.
Her experiences inspired her to found Truth Prescriptions, becoming a life coach specializing in "fierce" females - physicians and working mothers who seek to re-establish their personal welfare as they balance professional ambitions and family priorities.
1. What is your specialty, and how many years of residency/fellowship did you complete?
I'm a Family Medicine boarded physician which is 3 years of residency. I finished in 2014. I cut back in the first year of practice. I was 30 at the time when I made the internal decision but 31 when my schedule actually changed. That delay is a story in and of itself, but no matter, the wheels of change grind slowly in big healthcare systems.
2. What did your parents do for their livelihood?
My dad is a computer program/system analysis guy. My Mom was SAHM until my younger brother went to school. Then she went back to college for education. After that, she did some part time jobs because she couldn't find a teaching job that seemed to fit her. After my parents divorced, she went back to school again and got a Master's in Library Science and now is a librarian.
I would say financially as a family we were lower middle class. I saw my parents struggle and argue over money. My dad was the saver and my mom was the spender.
I definitely have some money issues from my family of origin that came to light when I got married and combined my finances with my husband's. My current money issue I've struggled with is tapping into the saving account and determine if a large savings is true security or false sense of security.
3. What motivated you to cut back?
I cut back on the surface for my family but the deeper reasons were because I was seriously done with medicine and so crispy with burnout. It was a deep dark place that even surrounded by a busy clinic, I felt so alone and that no one else saw my struggle. That's why I say "on the surface for my family."
Everyone assumed when I went down to 0.6 FTE it was because I had 2 young children at home and "wanted to spend more time with them." In fact, I just desperately needed to get my sh*t together and figure out what my true well-being looked like. I started working M-W-F, and those T-TH felt like coming up for air after being underwater on a deep dive. That schedule allowed me the space to work through issues I didn't even realize were affecting my life.
4. What were the financial implications of cutting back?
We went ahead and started paying down my med school loans 6 months after I graduated from med school (so on a resident salary) which helped us get a grasp on them. We lived poorer than a typical resident so that we could pay down the loans.
After finishing residency, we bought a small, reasonable home (less than 25% of my monthly income) and had no other debt so we really were set up in a good place for me to cut back. I did pull back on retirement savings and still having gotten that back up again. The kids have 529 plans but they are not beefed up - but I needed to cut back for my own well-being. Now I continue to work a non-traditional physician schedule because my life is so fulfilled that money can't even touch that.
5. How did colleagues react to your decision?
Other colleagues had all sorts of reactions. Some understood, other couldn't comprehend why I was doing it. Some said "good for you" while others talked about me being selfish. The crazy thing has been that a few of my prior colleagues now come to me and ask how they can do what I did! LOL. Maybe they thought I would crash and burn and be back on my knees begging. NOPE!
6. What have been the main benefits of your decision to cut back?
I'm a person again. Not a walking shell or a ticking time bomb. I'm living in the middle of my purpose of being a healer and encourager to others. My children have a mother. I actually get sleep. I have freedom of schedule which is f*in' amazing!!!
7. Main drawbacks?
The money was nice - don't get me wrong. We aren't planning any vacations or big purchases in the near future and that sucks. But the money obviously didn't fix anything or make me happy. I'm really holding on to finding joy every day, and I feel rich.
8. Did you fear your procedural or clinical skills might decline?
Of course, but just like learning a new skill, I can re-learn it. Neuroplasticity at it's best!
9. If you are honest, how much of your identity resides in being a physician?
In 2014, A LOT of my identity was in being a doctor. Now, I realize 2 things: (1) No one can take my education. I will always be a doctor. (2) Practicing medicine is something I do, it's not fully what I am. I still consider totally walking away, letting my license and board certification lapse, but I enjoy what I'm doing right now. I'm thankful that I can pursue several ventures, including the practice of medicine.
10. If you had not gone into medicine, what alternate career might you have pursued?
Hmmm...maybe teaching at a college level, therapist, professional organizer, LIFE COACH.
11. What activities have begun to fill your time since you cut back?
Everything that should have been there before. Sleep, family time, downtime, reading, crafts, cooking healthier foods, friends.
12. If approaching retirement, what activities have you begun to prioritize outside of medicine so that you retire to something?
Not looking to retire any time soon, so will defer this question. I have re-framed how I want to retire, and it looks different than 6 years ago.
13. Did you front-load your working and savings, or did you adopt a reduced clinical load early in your career?
I adopted a part-time schedule from the beginning. How that is going to affect my retirement remains to be seen. I do know that working hard doesn't always equal a cush retirement. My husband always jokes about how he would use my life insurance policy because I probably would have stroked out at 50 due to my stress levels. Now, I think I've got a much better chance of going to Vegas on his 🙂
My take home points from Errin's story:
- We work to fund the lives of those we love, which has the nasty side effect of rendering us depleted once we arrive home. Work demands absence (physical, geographic, of attention), ultimately begetting mental absence once our physical presence returns - a Catch 22 if ever one existed. Errin broke this vicious cycle by cutting back.
- Her professional identity is multidimensional; she's become a life coach who does some doctoring on the side. The theme of diversification of identity recurs frequently in this series.
- She encapsulates the dilemma working professional mothers have struggled with for years: you can't have everything. Motherhood, being present for a partner, tending to personal well-being and pursuing a career as a full-time physician are elements in a zero sum game. For a long time, Errin neglected her well-being to excel in the other spheres. Eventually it caught up with her, and cutting back on clinical medicine restored her to balance.
- Erin's work with a life coach helped her make progress toward change that might otherwise have eluded her. She discovered a meaningful way to pay it forward by becoming a life coach herself. For those of us who feel trapped, a life coach can help us identify escape routes that might not be evident from a place of darkness.
- When most of us imagine what wealth looks like, it usually involves having abundant time and the autonomy to spend it as we choose. Using this definition, Errin found wealth despite a significantly reduced clinical load and the resulting financial hit.