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From Burnout To Thriving: My Story, Part I

Robert Kornfeld, DPM writes about his personal experience with burnout and how he went from burnout to thriving. Part I of II.

February 26, 2024

This is Part I of a two-part article.

There is currently an epidemic of burnout amongst physicians. Much of it has to do with the rigors of insurance-dependency or corporate employment.

I suffered from burnout from 1985-1990, long before any of these issues were a part of the experience of doctors. But we all enter burnout for different reasons.

Here is my story.

Admittedly, I always had trouble walking on the white line like we are all taught to do. Conformity may work for some, but I always saw life from a different perspective. There was a lot of emotional suffering in my early life (I am currently in the early stages of writing a book about it) and it opened my mind to desires that I could only fantasize about at the time.

 

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One of the most damaging things in my life (amongst others) was my father always telling me, “Are you kidding? You can’t do that”, when I would share with him about things I wanted to do or accomplish.

Many times he would ridicule or laugh at my ideas.

That lack of support, that utter lack of confidence in my ability was transferred into my subconscious programming. It helped foster many limiting beliefs I held about myself and fueled a monstrously low self-esteem issue.

When I told my parents that I will be majoring in music and theatre my freshmen year of college, they were very unsupportive and upset about it. I do remember them telling me that I’ll never make a living and it’s a very hard life. But to be honest, it felt no different than any other negative thing they had to say about my decisions, dreams, and aspirations so I just ignored it. And since I began drum lessons at 8 years old and had been in bands since the age of 11, it was the love of my life.

I will admit that I was not a committed student at that point in my life. I was only interested in playing in the band I started, and academia was unimportant to me. But music, oh music! It always elevated my mood. It filled me with joy and helped me reach into my own soul as I began to write lyrics. Although those lyrics were somewhat dark, they were introspective and gave me a window into my own emotions, experiences and beliefs. It is no surprise that I fell in love with the blues. I experienced intense soul-bearing in the lyrics and the utter honesty about suffering helped me to develop a sense of community and camaraderie with people who had also suffered in their lives. The music matched the emotional intensity of the lyrics and I was hooked.

 

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At the end of my freshmen year of college (1972), I decided that college wasn’t for me.

I wanted to be a famous “rock star”. So I dropped out to follow that passion. Needless to say, I did not succeed. It did not take long for me to see the ugliness in many of the people involved in the industry. I was robbed by a producer. I was lied to, mistreated and left feeling really sad. I saw more suffering in that world and that is not what I wanted for my future. I had already been through so much.

But I was not sorry for what happened. It taught me an important lesson about myself. I wanted/needed to be in control of my own destiny. I knew I had to be my own boss. I did not want to rely on others. I needed and craved autonomy.

 

One of the most damaging things in my life (amongst others) was my father always telling me, “Are you kidding? You can’t do that”

 

After about a year, I decided to go back to college to become a doctor.

I chose medicine because I thought helping people and earning a reliable living would be a good thing and I could be self-employed and in control. But I did not want to surround myself with people suffering from serious illness.

I wanted to help people who were not involved in life and death situations. I chose podiatry because I believed that it would fulfill my desire to help people who would not die because of, or in spite of, my care.

While an intern, I was exposed to something called “minimal incision surgery” (MIS).

I found it rather fascinating because bunions, hammertoes, misaligned metatarsals and bony enlargements could be corrected with incisions so small that no sutures were required. Yet, it was not being taught in school. I brought it up to our teachers and attendings often and I became the subject of ridicule again (very reminiscent of my father). The logic was that you should be able to visualize everything you were doing during surgery and dissecting in layers made for the best post-surgical results. They referred to themselves as “open surgeons” who opened the foot for optimal visualization and called the MIS surgeons “closed surgeons” because the foot remained closed to visualization.

 

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Yet, as I rotated through some private offices and saw great MIS results and happy patients, I began to feel very controlled by circumstances. I felt it should be an integral part of our training.

Instead, it led to a “war” between the “open surgeons” and the “closed surgeons” and, of course, we were told that MIS surgeons were a blight on our profession. This was my first introduction to what I will refer to as medical brainwashing where you are instructed to fit into a rigid mold with rigid ideas because that is what you must do to be a great doctor. Never buck the system!

Even though so much of my training went against my nature, I did buckle to the pressure and conformed to that rigid model of thinking. I trained in conventional “open” surgical techniques and bought into the entire western medical model. I did enjoy performing surgery, so I stopped thinking about the MIS procedures, even though I had seen rapid healing, minimal tissue damage and patients who swore they had no post-op pain.

However, once out of training, I opened my private practice in 1982 and was in for a surprise.

 

(Part II of this article can be found here)

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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