When the world began to shut down in March and jobs and schools went remote, many of us struggled to adjust to all of the changes being thrown our way. This, coupled with the unknowns about coronavirus, resulted in fears about the health and well-being of our families, and uncertainty about the future.
It should come as no surprise that women felt the brunt of these additional stressors, since two out of every three caregivers are women. Everyone’s experience living in a COVID-19 world is different, and we thought, who better to ask about it than the female physicians of Tryon Medical Partners. Making up over half of the independent medical practice’s doctors, they, like women everywhere, work to manage it all, while also serving on the front lines of a global pandemic. This allows them to provide a unique perspective, as other women are also depending on them for help working through these tough times and the ever-present anxiety.
It’s a Juggling Act
Like women everywhere, the female physicians of Tryon Medical Partners struggle to juggle and balance it all–their jobs, children learning remotely and taking care of their family. Dr. Caroline Pierce, an internal medicine physician at Tryon’s Uptown location, remarks on the challenges facing her patients raising young children.
“They have so many questions that there just aren’t any easy answers to right now. Like, ‘How do you homeschool?’ and ‘Is it safe to let my kids play with other kids?’ and ‘Do I let my kids visit with their grandparents?’ It has been striking to me as a physician how significant this stress can be,” says Dr. Pierce. “Many of my female patients are looking for ways to deal with the stress, such as drinking more alcohol or eating more comfort foods. This, of course, is significantly affecting their health. I am striving to help them find healthier ways to deal with their stress during this crazy time.”
In addition to the increased responsibilities that women now face is anxiety about financial security. “Some people have lost their jobs due to the economic consequences of the pandemic,” shares Dr. Alicia Cole, an internal medicine physician at the Tryon SouthPark office. “Families are dealing with a greater financial burden.”
Dr. Anne Barnard, an internal medicine physician at Tryon Uptown, speaks to the unique pressures that COVID-19 has placed on her patients. “Juggling the responsibilities of working full time and supervising your kids at home with virtual school, in the setting of a global pandemic and all of its stresses and anxieties . . . and uncertainty about the future. We are seeing a LOT of anxiety in working mothers both in the office and on the virtual platform.”
How Women Are Doing, Nine Months In
With November beginning month nine of the U.S. pandemic, we wondered if the physicians were seeing women better adjusting to this “new normal.” And the answer seems to be a mix of yes and no.
As the pandemic drags on, female patients report more anxiety than ever with the pressure to figure out the right things for their families and balancing the loneliness that comes along with separation from regular activities.
Dr. Patricia Roddey, a dermatologist at the Tryon SouthPark location, is concerned that some patients are skipping preventative care right now, allowing the pandemic to dominate their thoughts about healthcare. “Some of my patients are not receiving skin cancer screenings on the recommended schedule.”
Many of the physicians have noted that while the stressors are still present, their patients have been working on ways to handle it better. Talking about their experiences and looking for healthier ways to help relieve stress and make their “new” lifestyles sustainable helps.
“Women are resilient,” says Dr. Barnard. “Most have evolved to a place of acceptance of the ‘new normal’ and have found innovative ways to juggle the multiple roles, family togetherness and concerns about COVID-19.”
The Effects of a COVID-19 World on Our Female Doctors
With increased demands from the patients who depend on them, physicians are finding themselves working more, often with strenuous schedules.
“There are periodic moments of physician burnout,” says Dr. Melissa James, an internal medicine physician at Tryon SouthPark. “This sometimes brings about feelings of sadness in sacrificing time with loved ones, with minimal time for self-care.”
Dr. Barnard shares a similar perspective. “At times, it has felt overwhelming, like drinking from a fire hose. The demand for medical care both in the office and on the virtual platform is tremendous, and I could literally see patients all day and all night every day. I have to learn to pace myself and create boundaries so that I can set my work aside and focus on my own physical and mental health, and my family,” she says. “I have also realized how thankful I am to be engaged in meaningful work, helping patients cope with these unprecedented times.”
Dr. Pierce speaks to the camaraderie between physicians in working together to help fight coronavirus. “The pandemic has pulled the scientific community together against this common enemy. I am so proud of all my partners at Tryon and how we are doing the best we can for our patients.”
Dr. Martie Jewell, a dermatologist at Tryon Ballantyne, thinks about her children’s overall health and education. There aren’t the same opportunities for them to socialize with their peers, and they may no longer be participating in their usual activities.
And others have had to put off thinking of starting a family at all.
“With repeated exposures to COVID-19 patients, this is clearly not a good time,” says Dr. Jennifer Womack, an internal medicine physician. While she normally works in the Uptown office, she has been manning the satellite testing site in Matthews since the start of the pandemic.
Dr. James adds to this, saying, “Family planning has been difficult and virtually put on hold during the pandemic, due to increased stressors and work requirements.”
How Doctors Reset
With all this on their plates, how can female physicians work to achieve a work/life balance and take care of themselves? Almost every single one mentioned exercise, especially outdoors, including walking at the end of the day to decompress, taking a hike or going on a long bike ride.
Physicians also rely on stress-reducing activities like meditation, spending time with friends outside, cooking, playing with their dogs, listening to music, shopping online or having a picnic.
Dr. James says that she wakes up an hour earlier in the morning to exercise with her spouse before work. “This allows me to focus on self-health, as well as spend some quality time with my family before work. I also try to avoid doing work-related tasks on Saturday, and spend quality time with my immediate family/friends who are in my ‘bubble.’ I usually listen to music and take a bath on Saturdays, and do yoga.”
Our female healthcare providers face many of the same stressors as the rest of us, amplified by working on the front lines of this pandemic. For them, focusing on what they are most passionate about, patient care, is what makes each day feel successful. And, for their patients, the relationship with a trusted physician allows them to stay well and care for their families during the most uncertain times. We truly all persevere together…just six feet apart.