Doctor Heal Thyself: Taking Care of Yourself Benefits Your Patients

Jun 27, 2018

As a pathologist, your primary responsibility is to take care of others. But it’s important to take care of yourself as well.

According to the first Medscape National Report on Physician Burnout and Depression, released in January 2018, nearly two-thirds of the 15,000 U.S. physicians from 29 specialties who responded to the survey said they felt burned out or depressed. The report defined burnout as “feelings of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, frustration or cynicism about work, and doubts about one's experience and the value of one's work.”1

“As a trainee and also as an early career attending, I found work life balance to be a significant challenge just because you’re working so much,” says Jessica Thomas, MD, FASCP, now an Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital Institute for Academic Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College. “It is really easy to get busy and drop the things you get excited about. You have to keep those activities and friends in your life.”

After earning a master’s degree in public health in 2001, Dr. Thomas entered an MD/PhD program at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. She received her PhD from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology in 2009 and her MD in 2011. Subsequently, she pursued a combined clinical and anatomic pathology residency, and a clinical fellowship in molecular genetic pathology in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville.  


She had a great group of friends and a support system in medical school, but when she moved from New Orleans to Nashville to begin her residency at Vanderbilt, she didn’t have much time to make new friends or take part in favorite activities. “It was all residency, all the time,” she recalls.


Toward the end of her residency, she began to think about how to bring balance back into her life, made new friends, and rediscovered old hobbies like hiking. But soon after, she got her first job in another city and had to start all over again. This time, she incorporated this immediately, trying new activities and discovering a love of sailing, getting involved in organizations and meeting new people.


“I’ve learned that you can have balance in your life, despite the fact that this is a profession where the work can be very overwhelming,” Dr. Thomas says.


Now the program director of Houston Methodist’s molecular genetic pathology fellowship, she makes it a point to pass on what she has learned about work-life balance to incoming pathology trainees. “You really have to pay attention to where you are emotionally and try not to drop the things you enjoy doing. That makes you a happier and more well-rounded doctor,” she says.



  1. Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018 website. Published Jan. 17, 2018.