In this episode of The Doctor’s Life podcast, host Dr. Dianne Ansari-Winn sits down with Dr. Aparna Iyer to talk about the issue of loneliness in physicians. Dr. Aparna is a board-certified psychiatrist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. Dr. Aparna specializes in physician wellness, perinatal mental health, and integrative psychiatry. In this conversation, Dr. Dianne and Dr. Aparna define loneliness and the severity of its effects, talk about how loneliness is uniquely difficult for physicians to overcome, and provide action steps to fight through loneliness for ultimate physician wellness.
Towards the beginning of this conversation, Dr. Aparna defines loneliness as the subjective experience of feeling disconnected from people. With this in mind loneliness can be identified as the result of having a lack of authentic connection. This lack of authentic connection, she explains, is the reason that so many doctors feel isolated despite living in constant physical proximity to hundreds of people, illuminating the difference in quantity of relationships versus quality of relationships. Dr. Aparna learned about this distinction between quantity and quality of relationships by observing famous Hollywood stars with millions of fans who still suffer from loneliness. As a result, she believes that the solution to fighting loneliness is through deepening a few relationships instead of creating a thousand shallow ones.
Reviewing a major theme in their conversation, Dr. Dianne and Dr. Aparna discuss some of the unique factors that contribute to the loneliness of physicians. Dr. Dianne proposes that one of the biggest issues is the competitive and hierarchical culture that physicians have created. She talks about her battle with loneliness while working at a trauma center, and how she was afraid of sharing her struggles with more tenured physicians because of how it would make her look. But in hindsight, she recognized that most of the physicians around her were probably experiencing the same struggles and isolation but were just unwilling to be transparent about it.
As the conversation comes to a close, Dr. Dianne and Dr. Aparna provide some tangible ways to battle loneliness in your own life, particularly as a physician. The first and foremost solution is initiating vulnerability. Reaching back to the definition of loneliness, they expound on the fact that it is not a matter of quantity of relationships but quality. So the first step to fighting loneliness is to deepen established relationships. The second solution is to join or establish a formal support group. Dr. Aparna shares about a physician wellness support group she created when she moved to Dallas two years ago, and how it has made a huge impact on her professional community. Loneliness is an epidemic, and this conversation proposes that the antidote is simple to understand by difficult to live out: pursuing authentic and vulnerable relationships with the people around you. The overall goal in cultivating personal vulnerability is the overall health and well-being of physicians who are seeking to overcome loneliness.
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