Being called an “emotional female” was a turning point for Dr Yumiko Kadota that put her on the path to writing a book by the same name.
Also on that path was her resignation from the hospital where she was employed, which occurred on her 24th day in a row of working on call for 24 hours a day.
It would be another 18 months before she could properly sleep again. Diagnosed with major depression, insomnia remained a significant issue.
The “emotional female” label came when she was working as a plastic surgery registrar in a severely understaffed hospital covering a 24-hour roster. The toll of being on standby for 24 hours at a time was taking its toll, and she decided to have a word with a male colleague who had unnecessarily called her at 3am regarding an appointment.
“I politely, but assertively told him that it was not appropriate to be ringing the on-call Registrar about non-urgent things. And, I was saying that to advocate, not just for myself, but for others who work 24/7 rosters, and the reason why is because fatigue is such a big issue among Surgical Registrars. We need to be alert and awake because we’re literally cutting people’s bodies open and if we make a mistake, it can be potentially life-threatening depending on the part of the body that we’re working on.”
The registrar didn’t appreciate the feedback, and called her an emotional female.
For Dr Kadota, the overtime and the rotation in that particular hospital saw her become increasingly mentally and physically unwell.
She first wrote about her experiences in a blog post around three years ago that went viral (and that we later published here on Women’s Agenda). She wrote about being broken, surrendering, and giving up. She wrote that she had nothing left to give. She had lost her ambition, her spark, and after putting in the hard work to get to where she was optimistic about applying for the advanced training program Plastic & Reconstructive surgery, she found herself in a hospital bed, barely able to speak or move.
She’s used her story to support more young doctors and surgeons.
And as she tells Shivani Gopal in the latest episode of The Moments That Make Us podcast, she’s advocating for more understanding on burnout and for institutions like hospitals to take responsibility for the working conditions they place on staff.
“It’s a very vulnerable group of doctors and one that is very, very easy to exploit. When you first start as a doctor, you’re an intern or a resident, and the hospital looks after you. And there’s also a postgraduate medical council that looks after the needs of the first two years, but then you have to try and get onto these very competitive, advanced training programs, and until you are on one of those programs, and until you’re an accredited registrar on those official programs. There’s no one looking after you”
Unfortunately, Dr Kadota says not much has changed in the past few years, even with the added attention on how difficult these experiences are for doctors. She says bullying in medicine is a huge problem. And that being out of the system has empowered her to speak up for herself, and for others (although she’s still being trolled).
She says huge cultural change is needed across the hospital system — which will be difficult and slow to change. But more immediately, more must be done to achieve adequate staffing levels. COVID-19 has made conditions even more difficult for those in healthcare, and it made pushing for the cultural shift that’s needed a difficult sell.
“Some surgical specialties are taking it more seriously than others, but there needs to be more of a consistent commitment to making sure that we’re all working safe hours and also to not glamorize overworking. I love the phrase you used before about medical hazing that’s a great description,” she says.
“It’s like, it’s almost rewarded if you work too much. It’s like you get a medal for working the most number of hours, but it shouldn’t be like that. It’s not really a competition, and I don’t think we should be rewarded completely by working down to the bone.”
Dr Kadota says the experience saw her body almost forgetting how to sleep.
She did eventually find medication that could help her sleep again.
But it was 18 months of hell, she says. The burnout and the depression remained for years. Only recently coming off antidepressants, she says she spent nearly four years medicated.
“Even though I resigned, and I was no longer in this horrible situation, the effects of burning out severely and becoming so mentally unwell, really stayed with me for a long time.
Reflecting on burnout, she says that it is much more than feeling a bit tired — and cautions against using the term so casually.
“Burnout is so much more than just feeling a little bit tired. It’s something that’s very pervasive and can make people very unwell and it takes a long time to recover. So, it’s something that I do think hospitals do need to care about. Because if you have burnt out workers, it can take a lot of time to rehabilitate all of these healthcare workers that have burnt out on the job.”
Now, Dr Kadota says that overall, she’s loving life.
She’s happy to be off medication but says there is absolutely no shame in needing it.
She’s now able to explore more interests and explore her curiosities.
She’s pursuing a “portfolio career” which can enable more flexibility and the ability to explore multiple things that drive her passion. While now back in clinical work, she also teaches body pump a couple of days a week in a gym and she’s also recently started her own new business with a skin clinic.
Not to mention, she’s also now a successful published author.
And in that book, she urges institutions to take responsibility for working conditions that ever lead staff to experience burnout.
“It’s really the hospital that needs to look into their staff, the hours they’re working, and how are they treated at work. Because all of those systemic factors are what are making people unwell. And so, I reject anyone who tries to blame someone who has burnt out on the job because we need to stop doing that to people and really take responsibility for the environmental factors.”
Listen to Dr Kadota on this week’s episode of Moments That Make Us, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen below. Thanks to our partner Stella Insurance for supporting this podcast series.