Friday, January 25, 2013

Breaking News! Protracted Medical Training Spouse (SO) Burnout

I believe that I have just discovered a new syndrome that affects the spouses and significant others of those pursuing medicine. I have named it Protracted Medical Training Spousal Burnout or PMTSB.

My research has concluded that being married to a person involved in medical training can be detrimental to your health. The longer the training, the greater your chances of contracting this syndrome, PMTSB. Symptoms will be present in the majority of spouses (so's) at some point during training to varying degrees based on individual factors such as specialty, presence of children and number of, distance from family and friends, and general mental well-being.

The subject used for my research is yours truly, and has been substantiated by observations made among subjects that shall remain confidential.

The idea for my research first came to me while listening to the radio months ago. I was listening to NPR and heard a segment on Care Giver Burnout. I don't remember anything specific, other than the topic and that it sounded like I had all the symptoms they were discussing. Like a curious cat, I came home and started looking up information on Care Giver Burnout.  Lo and behold, I have that - and that isn't just my hypochondriac self speaking.

"Caregivers, individuals who care for the physical and/or psychological needs of others, often fail to recognize and meet their own needs. Being focused on tending to the day-to-day needs of others can cause one to ignore their own personal and emotional well-being. This is often a major factor that contributes to stress and other problems associated with caregiver burnout."(Source: Recognizing and Coping with Caregiver Burnout)

Do you fail to recognize and meet your own needs?
Are you focused on the day-to-day needs of others?
Do you often ignore your own personal and emotional well-being?

Let's consider the warning signs of Care Giver Burnout (source):

  • extreme fatigue, lack of concentration and insomnia
  • depression and loss of the ability to cope with everyday things
  • denial about the severity/outcome of illness
  • misdirected anger towards others, including the patient
  • general irritability
  • mood swings
  • withdrawal from activities and friends
  • lack of appetite
  • expression of anxiety about the future
  • general health problems, get sick more often

As I was reading through the burnout quiz that followed I quickly realized that many of the events that they use to determine care giver burnout apply to me often, or sometimes. 

Here is a review of the quiz. How would you answer? Seldom. Sometimes. Often.

  • I can't get enough rest
  • I don't have enough time for myself
  • I don't have time to be with other family members other than those that I care for
  • I feel guilty about my situation
  • I don't get out much anymore
  • I have a conflict with the person(s) I care for
  • I have conflicts with other family members
  • I cry everyday
  • I worry about having enough money to make ends meet

I can answer YES to most of the above.

The only problem is that the community at large would not recognize me as having that particular problem. After all, I do not provide primary care for an elderly person or a chronically ill child/spouse. The common outsider may scoff at my condition and claim that what I am experiencing is just part of motherhood and marriage, or that perhaps I am depressed. I contend that they are wrong!

As the primary caregiver and the person responsible for everything that happens outside the hospital, we don't get enough rest. No sleep leads to more irritability and general moodiness (some days there may even be crying). Our anger may be taken out on our children, family, spouse/so for minor infractions that under normal circumstances would be overlooked.

Most of the time the conflicts we have with our family members are one-sided. They don't know about the conflict! We are feeling alone, abandoned, wish they would visit more often, or could do more than offer "it will get better". We feel guilty about the feelings we have toward our family and friends who don't get the process and focus their reassuring comments on the future instead of the here and now. We withdraw and stop trying to explain.

We don't get out much because making new friends isn't what is used to be before medicine. The friends we could make might not be in medicine, and in a different phase of their life making common ground difficult to find. You know you have friends like that, they already have a job, house, car, vacations, - a lifestyle, and you are still living in an apartment in your mid-thirties trying to figure out how to clip coupons in between naps and Dora. And then coordinating schedules, lining up a babysitter, and paying for a night out or day out is nearly impossible. 

We worry about money constantly as every day we are further and further in debt waiting for our golden ticket. We are anxious about legislation and taxation that could impact our potential to pay off loans, buy a house, save for retirement, etc. We are nervous about exams, applications, interviews, matching, boards, conferences anything and everything that a) takes time away from the family or b) takes money away from the family. We worry a lot!

And then there is the weight gain/loss. We either forget to eat because our "clocks" are all messed up by a schedule that is forever in flux OR we eat all the wrong things at the wrong time. I am looking at three chocolate wrappers right now, and I am thinking about the ice cream in the freezer calling my name. And my favorite, is eating whatever you can find that will pass for nutrition because you don't feel like cooking because the kids don't care, and the doctor is eating at the hospital again. I have gone entire weeks without cooking before.

Being the spouse or s/o of a person who is pursuing medicine isn't easy. Our symptoms are often ignored or downplayed by the very people we would count on to provide support. They don't see the day to day struggles that we face, they are blinded by the end-results. The number of people who truly understand where we are coming from shrink with every passing year.

Perhaps I should present my findings to have Protracted Medical Training Spousal Burnout or PMTSB submitted as a recognized syndrome. It is real - I am living proof! 

So what do the experts recommend to cope with the burnout (care giver or PMTSB)? (Source)

  • Recognize the warning signs early
  • Make time for yourself
  • Set your own goals
  • Attend to your own health care needs
  • Become an educated caregiver
  • Ask for and accept help
  • Talk with someone about your feelings
  • Learn to communicate effectively with your physician

Are you starting to see how similar Caregiver Burnout is to Protracted Medical Training Spousal Burnout? It is pretty clear to me:-)

What can we learn about dealing with PMTSB?

Don't dismiss your feelings. They are not wrong, you are not weak, it is normal. Find someone to talk to that is going through the same thing. If you can't find someone geographically convenient, try finding support groups online. If you look hard enough you will find someone. If you don't find one that fits, start your own.

Support other spouses/so when you see/feel they may be struggling with the symptoms of PMTSB.

Don't be too hard on yourself (hard, I know).

Focus on what matters, and let the petty stuff take care of itself.

The good news is that Protracted Medical Training Spousal Burnout or PMTSB at this time is believed to be a temporary condition and it's symptoms may decrease over time once training is completed. This study is still ongoing. I will let you know if it is true next year as my research continues. 

On a very serious note: While I did not mention it specifically in this post, many of the symptoms of PMTSB are also common with depression. If you think you may be depressed, seek professional help. 

(Disclaimer: I am in no way making light Caregiver Burnout or Depression. I only seek to shine light on many of the similarities they share with the spouses and significant others of those pursuing medicine as their life long profession.)

Source related to care giver burnout



  1. Great post! Though I don't have kids and we are not so very far into this journey, I get you. I don't even remember a day when I've eaten all three meals. When my future in-laws came to visit, they were shocked that I didn't have dinner ready and waiting for {future} DrH because...uh, I never know what time he'll be home...Also, you mentioned NPR and I'm kind of obsessed with that station.....

  2. This is so true! Except instead of lack of appetite, I'm right there with you on eating the wrong things. I'm so tired from having to run everything having to do with our "lives" that eating healthy and going to the gym is quite low on my list nowadays. It's exhausting!!

  3. I really love reading your blog! This has given me so much advice and laughs for things I will experience one day! I am just staring out as being a Med School Wife and really enjoy reading about others experience's in this area of life! I started a blog myself, I figured one day i would want to look back on all of this and laugh! !! Can't wait to see more posts!

    1. Thanks for commenting and leaving your blog address. I love reading blogs from this community. I forgot to include that the boots are rockin, and that sunset is unlike anything I have ever seen. I got hung up on the chocolate and went brain dead for a second:-) Thanks for stopping by, come again!

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  5. hahaha this is wonderful...but oh so true! Thanks for finally giving a name to whatever it is we deal with/become. ;)


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