Research shows health care workers are at risk for greater burnout, stress and depression. And you yourself refer to your former workplace as a toxic environment. You were doing ten 24-hour shifts every two weeks and working over 100-hour weeks. You described getting a call — after working a 24-hour shift — at 3 a.m. for a nonurgent matter and being (understandably!) upset about it. Then the guy on the other end called you an “emotional female.” I was foaming at the mouth when I read that, because we all know no man would be called that! There was also the part where a patient thought you were a nurse just as you were getting ready to operate on them! When you brought up how toxic everything was to your managers, they just told you to be stronger. Do you think you would have been treated differently if you were a white man?

Yumiko: Most of the time I forget the fact that I am an Asian woman. I guess I’m just me. But there are reminders, often. I was heckled with kung fu noises when I lived in England during high school. I brushed off the incidents, but over time those little things add up.

After I left medical school, slowly my confidence dropped.

Ruchika: I wrote an article with the writer Jodi-Ann Burey about how impostor syndrome is not inherently a “women’s issue” but a side effect of experiencing sexism and racism. I’ve always thought of myself as confident and strong, but when I experience overwork cultures, sexism or racism, I see myself shrinking to fit in.

Yumiko: I remember catching up with a girlfriend when I was in medical school. She said, “You’ve lost your sparkle.” Those were her exact words. I definitely became quieter and more subservient to my bosses and to the health care system. Until I quit.

the Australian news after reading your viral blog post that exposed how badly junior doctors were being treated by the medical system and the challenges you faced as a woman in medicine. At that time, it sounded like you were planning to leave surgery forever.

Yumiko: Well, I was burned out. I was diagnosed with depression, and I ended up in hospital that year, and my health just continued to deteriorate. I had terrible insomnia; it took 18 months for me to get my sleep back. Overwork disrupts your brain so horribly.

Ruchika: How did you get through it?

Yumiko: I can’t talk about recovery without talking about therapy. We need to normalize it. I was facing such acute trauma that for a while, any reminder of my medical past put me in a really bad place. So learning to cope with that through therapy was really important. But also, physical exercise and the outdoors helped me a lot.

Ruchika: I’m glad you’re back to doing surgeries now at a more manageable pace, while also having a life outside “the knife.” What else helped with your recovery?

Yumiko: When we experience burnout, we need to take a holistic approach to healing. I studied yoga, and read yoga philosophy which helped me reframe how I thought about my identity. When you’re a workaholic, your job becomes your identity. And now I’m learning to define myself beyond that.


Burnout is a serious workplace issue, according to the World Health Organization. Ellen Keithline Byrne cites Maslach’s research and suggests asking yourself three questions to assess whether you may be experiencing burnout:

Work cultures that reward overwork are often the biggest culprits for holding women back from professional progress, not work-life balance, according to the researchers Robin J. Ely and Irene Padavic.

list of resources about workplace burnout and cautions that ignoring job burnout could lead to a host of consequences like excessive stress, fatigue, sadness, anger or irritability. It suggests discussing concerns with a supervisor, seeking support from colleagues or loved ones and practicing mindfulness.


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