SGO Wellness: Personal Wellness Reflection | Angeles Alvarez Secord, MD, MHSc
Thank you Dr. Jeffrey Fowler, you changed my life! In 2016, Dr. Fowler, as the 48th President of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO), declared that wellness would be a top priority for his year. The focus on wellness was prompted by a membership survey regarding stress and burnout. The findings were alarming. Thirty-two percent of physicians who completed the survey had scores concerning burnout; 30% scored high for emotional exhaustion, 33% screened positive for depression, and 13% reported a history of suicidal ideation.1
Dr. Fowler’s willingness to candidly discuss burnout helped minimize the stigma. For me, awareness of burnout was like a lightbulb going off – I remember thinking “I am going to be ok. I am just emotionally and physically exhausted.” Metaphorically, I had been running a sprint marathon since I started internship and the pace continued to accelerate through fellowship and as an attending. Add to that marriage, a spouse who was a small business owner in addition to having his own career, three kids, and a revolving door of family members who needed our support. I was just pushing myself to keep going and make it to the finish line. If you need any insight into the working parent dilemma read “The Default Parent” – that was my life!2
I recall coming away from the SGO Annual Meeting that year with two important realizations. First, I needed to talk to my spouse about our unsustainable lifestyle. Figuratively, we were running in circles trying to raise our children, developing our careers, and leaving little time for each other. After eighteen months of thoughtful consideration, he made the decision to focus on his business, leave the corporate world, and spend more time at home. The time and support our children gained was absolutely precious, and this decision helped strengthen our relationship.
Second, I felt that I was in a safe place where I could candidly share that I was struggling rather than trying to appear as if I was effortlessly thriving. Thus, in this safe place I will share – I go through cyclic periods of emotional and physical exhaustion. I struggle with work-life balance because there is no balance. Like so many of you, I absolutely Iove what I do. I am passionate about caring for our patients; pushing the envelope through research; and working together to further our mission, vision, and purpose. The rigors of our work are clear. They are what drew me to this field and continually challenge me. The lifelong friendships and fellowship in our field are sustaining and constantly renew my passion for this work. And ultimately, the calling to care for our patients is priceless.
Despite our passion and toolkits, burnout is not going away. The most recent 2020 SGO State of the Society survey revealed increasing levels of burnout, notably in female gynecologic oncologists and those practicing in the northeast and south.3 We are not alone. Burnout and challenges with work-life balance are issues across healthcare and numerous professions. A 2018 marketplace survey conveyed that 77% of professionals experienced burnout, with the highest rate (84%) in millennials.4 The findings from these surveys are sobering. After all these years of emphasizing wellness and discussing burnout, viable solutions have remained elusive. I am hopeful that recent legislation, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, passed in 2022 will help improve mental health and prevent burnout among health professionals.5
SGO remains steadfast in our commitment to advocate for our members. We are working with other medical societies, such as American College of Surgeons (ACS) – Well-being Coalition, to address systemic issues in healthcare that challenge our ability to enjoy the true privilege of working in our field and optimize our ability to make a difference for our patients. We are resilient. We are strong. And we will keep working toward substantial change to enhance wellness and eliminate burnout.
Angeles Alvarez Secord, MD, MHSc, is a Gynecologic Oncologist at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, NC, and the 2023-2034 SGO President.
1. Rath KS, Huffman LB, Phillips GS, Carpenter KM, Fowler JM. Burnout and associated factors among members of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 213(6):824.e1-9. PMID: 26226551
2. Blazoned, M. The Default Parent. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-default-parent_b_6031128. Oct 28, 2014, |Updated Dec 6, 2017, Accessed May 21, 2023.
3. Davidson BA, Turner TB, Kim KH, Cass I, Calat L, McGwin G, Kushner DM. SGO and the elephant that is still in the room: Wellness, burnout and gynecologic oncology. Gynecol Oncol. 2022 Sep 2:S0090-8258(22)00572-8. PMID: 36064677 4. Burnout Survey. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/about-deloitte/us-about-deloitte-burnout-survey-infographic.pdf. 2018 Deloitte Development LLC. Accessed May 21, 2023. 5. Dr. Lorna Breen Foundation. https://drlornabreen.org/ Accessed May 21, 2023.