California physician in training reveals how she copes with burnout, is researching solutions
Yasmin Bains got her first taste of physician burnout after completing the Pre-Professional Health Academic Program at California State University, East Bay.
“It was go, go, go. I really did not take the breaks that were needed,” Bains said, noting the program was manageable but the stress level was higher than she’d anticipated. “I think emotionally and mentally, that’s where things got challenging. I had those classic signs of burnout after completing (the program). I was feeling disengaged, lonely, and started isolating myself from friends and family.”
And it wasn’t like Bains had never experienced a stressful environment.
Bains is a career-changer. Now a fourth-year medical student and primary care academic fellow at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, she entered the medical field after many years working in the business world of Silicon Valley. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics, which she earned in 2005 from Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business.
In 2011, Bains decided to shift gears.
“Family circumstances led me to looking into medicine as far as what I wanted to do next,” Bains said. “I always wanted to work with the community, but didn’t know my options until I met a physician who mentored me.”
Graduated from the CSU East Bay program in 2013, she began to wonder if she’d made a mistake, so she decided to hold off on applying for medical school, opting instead to take a year off to evaluate her priorities.
During that year away from her studies, Bains went to work full time with geriatric patients in Palo Alto. It turned out to be an experience she described as “important” because it reminded her why she felt medicine was the right decision.
“I had almost turned away from it because I was burned out, and that was a scary thought,” Bains said. “The truth is, my story is not unique. Burnout happens to a lot of us.”
Bains stepped back into her new world in 2015. She decided to build on the foundation of medicine by earning her master’s degree in medical health science, also from Touro University.
“That was a challenge but I had learned from my previous experiences and was trying to balance the school and the personal experience a bit more,” Bains said. “When I started medical school (in 2016), I knew I really wanted to address physician burnout.”
Through her research, Bains learned that physician burnout is widespread among medical students, and the trend continues into residency, when stress levels can escalate even more because of the greater degree of responsibility, authority and long hours.
“I really wanted to help sort of create this culture change here on campus, so one of the things I’ve been involved in since my first day of medical school is the WARM program (Wellness, Academics, Resilience and Mindfulness),” she said.
The goal of WARM is to help integrate students’ well-being into Touro’s medical school curriculum, a change from what Bains said was a “one-size-fits-all model” that consisted of one or two activities for students in a dedicated time slot, not accounting for their individual support needs.
“We decided this past year to move away from that model to a completely student-driven model of well-being. That means we create time within our own curriculum for students to take charge of their own well-being and lead their peers,” Bains said. “We went from offering one or two sessions of curriculum hours, to a 5-to-10-fold increase.”