Three Things I Wish I’d Known Then

by Jen Barna MD | Life Journey, Physician Coaching, Podcast, Resilience, Work Life Balance

Please join us for this episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Lead coaches Gabriella Dennery MD and Jill Farmer team up again to talk self care. In this episode Gabriella shares her wisdom on the things she wishes she had known as a practicing physician about taking care of herself. You will learn three dynamic truths that you can apply to your life right now that will hopefully bring more balance and harmony to your life as a physician. Are you a physician who would like to tell your story? Reach out to Jen about being on our podcast at [email protected]

Please enjoy the transcript below.


Gabriella: I mean life is messy and is gloriously messy. So, we get to live that every single day.


Jill: Hello, everyone and welcome. I am Jill Farmer, one of the lead coaches at joined by my esteemed colleague, coach, Gabriella Dennery. Gabriella, today, we are going to talk about three things that you wish you knew as a practicing physician, when it comes to taking care of yourself and self-care? So, what do you wish you would have known then that you do know now?


Gabriella: Ooh, enquiring minds want to know. All right. Well, I would say number one. What other people think of you is none of your business. [laughs] Oh, I wish I had known that in my earlier days. Why? It comes from one of my mentors. A wonderful pediatrician that I worked with when I was an attending physician in Harlem. She was burnt out, took a year and a half off, and came back, and she was like an angel floating on the cloud. I said, “What happened to you? I want more of that. What’s your secret?” She’s like– we shared about her healing journey and her journey through burnout. She was very open about her experience. One aspect of it really struck me because she was very, very open about the fact that she was working with a therapist and I thought that was kind of odd. Because it’s not something doctors talk about.


But there was such a stigma associated with seeking mental health support that you just didn’t do it. Because as a physician, you’re seeing yourself and other people see you as almost perfect, there’s nothing wrong with you. There is something wrong with everybody else, but there’s nothing wrong with you, how could there be, and how does that impact a career if somebody finds out etc., etc.? For her to just talk about it so openly, and really not caring about what other people thought, I said, “Wow, now, that’s a lesson I learned.” So, I take that as number one thing in terms of my self-care that I wish I knew back then that I know now. It’s like, you know what? It doesn’t matter what other people think because this is my life and I get to live it the way I want to live it. If I need support then I need support, and that’s just the bottom line, and it makes me a healthier person. Why not?


Jill: Yeah, oh, I love that. Yeah. Somebody else who was a mentor to me, and I learned a lot from, and I use this with my physician clients as well is, when we care so much about what other people may think, we accidentally, a lot of times put people on our own personal board of directors who really should have no agency in our lives. Because they’re not people that we respect, they’re not people we trust, they’re not people that really uphold our values, but somehow because they are critical or they have this way of having disdain for things that matter to us, we give them the position as the board of directors in our life, and we let them make decisions for us that they really shouldn’t be making. So, I love that. Number one thing, if we can all integrate that, what other people think of us is not our business. Oh, that’s really powerful. What was number two on your list?


Gabriella: I like this one. “I am responsible for my happiness.” So, I’m going to put it in terms of– [laughs] Simple, isn’t it? “You are responsible for your happiness.”


Jill: Oh, it’s so much easier when I can blame everybody else.


Gabriella: [crosstalk] the administrator, the administration, what’s wrong with them, they have a mission and vision, they’re not even following that, what is wrong, why is this workload so crazy and what about this medical record? It doesn’t work with my flow, they just want me to dump more data in it, I don’t have time for this, etc., etc., etc. It’s always somebody else’s fault. Why is this drug rep knocking on my door? Oh, my goodness, please stop knocking. The pharmacist is calling the script I wrote was wrong [laughs] etc., etc. Oh, my goodness, it is everybody else’s fault, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s simple to have that logic because it’s like you spend 8, 10 hours plus a day in a specific environment and if you’re not supported in that environment, yeah, it’s easy to say, “If you made my life easier, I would be happy.”


But in the end, my big discovery and what I learned from one of my first coaching clients actually, who was talking about how she wanted to mend her relationship with her adult children, which is a beautiful vision and a beautiful intention. But her response was, “But they should know that about me. They should already know what I want or what I think. They should know.” It’s like, “But wait a minute. What if they can’t guess? What if they don’t have a crystal ball?” They can’t read your mind. What if you actually have to tell them? What it is that you want for yourself and you want in their communication. So, this is kind of an indirect way that I learned about setting clear boundaries.


I am responsible for my happiness, which means I have to teach people how to treat me. And I have to make choices that are in line with that vision. I deserve to be happy. I’m worthy of my happiness. It’s not just here to do a job, to see one to be on an assembly line, and see one after the other. But it really is, I can direct that. It’s not the administrator’s job to make me happy. It’s mine. So, I get to set boundaries, which we’re going to delve more and more into, do a nice, deep dive into how to set clear and intentional boundaries for your wellbeing and self-care, so that you can tell people exactly what you want, and what you need, and how you want to be treated in life.


The work that I did with this client was to, you know what, you have to articulate what it is that you want. You have to actually say it. Because a boundary can only be effective if it’s shared. So, of course, there are ways of sharing boundaries. They don’t have to be abrupt. It can be very polite, it could be very respectful, but they have to be clear. Because boundaries are key to establishing your happiness and making that matter to you, and making you the driver of that car, not somebody else.


Jill: That’s really important. This reminds me of something that came up with one of my physician clients just very recently. We’re talking about email and email being very overwhelming, and all these thousands of emails, and the physician was going on, and on, and on about people who send unnecessary emails and copy and so, I said. So, basically, you want to solve this problem by controlling all of the email senders’ brains [laughs] to keep them from sending you emails you don’t want them to send. Of course, the physician, he laughed, he was like, “Okay, that doesn’t sound like a good strategy.” I said, “No. Let’s come up with a different email management strategy that you have control over, so you can take control over when you read your emails, how quickly you delete them, and spend a lot less of your time, energy and focus wishing that other people would behave differently in their email sending patterns.”


It was kind of a watershed moment, just coming back to exactly what you just said. That second point of taking care of yourself is like, “What can I be responsible for as opposed to reacting to and blaming?” So that leads us to number three. What’s that third thing that you wish you would have known as a practicing physician that would have given you more peace, freedom, joy, and happiness?


Gabriella: You are entitled to change your mind.


Jill: Oh, beautiful.


Gabriella: Oh, this is one of my favorites. Because I learned that from actually a singer I admired. She was on a panel discussion and they were talking about, I don’t know if you know the group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and it was Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, one of the members of the group who said that point like, you are entitled to change your mind. I thought she was talking directly to me. Because the guilt I felt over not getting to this part of the list or the guilt I felt about leaving medicine, and that guilt I felt for years, the guilt I felt about, you know, once a doctor, always a doctor, what’s wrong with me? I should be perfectly happy where I am and what I’m doing. Oh, my goodness, I am entitled to change my mind. You are entitled to change your mind. And why? Because of what we learn in psychiatry and psychology classes. Because what I aspired to and what you aspired to at the age of 20 is not the same thing. At the age of 30 or at the age of 40 or 50 and beyond. It changes, life changes, events happen, experience happens, viewpoints change.


Release yourself of any qualm you have, about any question you may have now about what things are as opposed to what you thought they should be back then. It’s like, “No, I’m not a 20-year-old kid anymore. Yes, I am entitled to change my mind. I have a different experience of the world at this point.” So, physicians, you have a different experience of the world as you move through. And I suspect the pandemic has accelerated that process in tremendous ways. It’s like, don’t feel guilty about it. You are entitled to change your mind to see life in a different way, to have a different relationship with it as you go forward. That doesn’t mean you have to quit your job or quit medicine. Oh, no, no, no. It just means that now you’re getting a little older, a little wiser, and what you thought was going to be is maybe a little different as you move forward, and that’s okay.


Jill: Yeah, I love that.


Gabriella: [crosstalk] has a different aspect, opinion and thought about it.


Jill: That’s right. We’re going to take a moment to celebrate neuroplasticity. [laughs] Thank goodness. We all have brains that have the ability to form new neural pathways, to learn new things, and as much as we all wail and gnash our teeth against disruption, those plot twists, right? You and I’ve taught a class on resiliency, webinar on resiliency before. The ability to handle those plot twists is what makes life interesting. It sometimes makes life hard, challenging, and frustrating. We wish we could be in complete control, where we could guarantee the outcomes, and success, and have no uncertainty. But trusting– so, we have the ability to change our minds and that’s a good thing. And to trust that we have the capacity, that our minds have the capacity to adjust, I think, is also really cool to think about.


Gabriella: And to trust that things will work out. They will.


Jill: Yes.


Gabriella: They always do. Once you make that mindset shift, once you shift that mindset and say, “You know what, I am responsible for my happiness. What other people think is not my business. What I think of me is my business and bottom line. And yes, I can change my mind, my thoughts, my ideas, my opinion about a certain situation. I’m entitled to do that. I’m a human being.” I mean, life is messy and is gloriously messy. So, we get to live that every single day, to exercise that agency, that power to make decisions on our own behalf.


Jill: You did a beautiful job of summarizing those and it reminds me of that line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where he says, “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it isn’t okay, it isn’t the end.” So, that’s the willingness to change your mind and to take that control, the happiness, I think, is really excellent. Thanks, Gabriella. This was wonderful. Really inspiring conversation.


Gabriella: Thank you, Jill. Thank you so much. And thank you everybody. We’ll catch you on the other side.


Amanda: Hello, and thank you for listening. This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of the DocWorking Podcast. If you enjoyed our podcast, please like and subscribe. We would also love it if you check out our website, which is You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. Our Instagram is @docworking1 and that is with the number one. When you check us out on social, please let us know what you would like to hear on the podcast. Your feedback really means a lot to us. And if you’re a physician with a story to tell, please reach out to Jen at [email protected]. Thank you, again, and we’ll see you next time.

Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO ofDocWorking, and host of top rankedDocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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