Yalda Afshar, MD, PhD, on avoiding burnout


Contemporary OB/GYN®’s Associate Editor, Lindsey Carr, sat down with board member Yalda Afshar, MD, PhD, to discuss mental health and burnout in ob/gyn.

“Whenever I get worried, I always think about a quote from a mentor (Beth Karlan, MD, PhD). She always reminds us, ‘Never worry alone.’ That is so true in some of the toughest clinical and surgical cases we get into. It comes in handy during some of the darkest moments in medicine, whether it is patient care related or not. Lean on your chosen family and community; always. Then be a pillar for them,” says Yalda Afshar, MD, on ways to avoid burnout and preserve mental wellbeing.

Contemporary OB/GYN®’s Associate Editor, Lindsey Carr, sat down with board member Yalda Afshar, MD, PhD, to discuss mental health and burnout in ob/gyn.

Afshar is an Assistant Professor and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California.

Q: Dr. Afshar, I wanted to get your perspective on wellbeing and mental health in healthcare right now. Vaccines are out the pandemic is not over. You are a new mother (congratulations!) and an ob/gyn at one of the busiest hospitals in the country. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

A: It really has to do with coming back to a sense of purpose. Having a purpose, I think, is inspiring. It helps attenuate burnout; it helps inspire. And then really just having a community, whatever that community may be. If it's in the workplace, if it is at home, if it's friends, if it's virtual, just some place that you can be vulnerable, really, I think helps me at least stay focused.

And a lot of my community are other scientists, other physician moms, and really, friends and family. So define your community, be at your actual family, your chosen family, and then stay in touch with them. Because I think that helps all of us while maintaining that sense of intent and purpose.

Q: With that, have you found it difficult to avoid burnout or that your foundation is pretty solid?

A: I think having a diversity of work. And it could be work in the workplace work at home. I avoid burnout by diversity in what I do. I spend most of my time you know, in research, but when I'm in clinical, mixing it up to teach, to ask questions to do research. And I think that helps avoid burnout, and then really getting inspired by areas that you feel weakened when there's no data push forward and asking questions. And that really helps me.

Q: Absolutely. So what advice would you give to new ob gyn struggling with burnout during the pandemic?

A: Remember yourself as that pre-med student. [Remember] your personal statement you wrote for medical school, and why you went into it in the first place. I do have this drawer where I keep notes from patients, and, on days that are really tough, it inspires me to look at those and read them. I spend a little extra time with the people that we get to take care of hear their stories and I think just humanizing the process. There's nothing that's inspiring about medical records and charting. But remember, that’s just a little part of it. Being with a patient, just that tangible part of medicine. Bringing it back sometimes is really the best way to avoid burnout.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: Talking to others, you know; we are all going through it. Some days are worse, some hours are worse. Just communicate with your colleagues and families. Especially when you’re really down. There’s always help and resources available if it becomes such and you need to talk to others.

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