Medicine nearly killed her soul. How one doctor got her life back.

In today’s podcast (and video), Kayla Luhrs, M.D., reveals how she recovered from the trauma of her medical training to live her dream in medicine. Listen in and be inspired . . . (full transcription & commentary below):

Hi, my name is Kayla. This is my second Breitenbush retreat. My last Breitenbush retreat started on the day I officially gave my 90-day notice for my job. I literally pulled over on the side of the road on my way here because I knew that was the only way that I would have the courage to do it and to not pick up the phone and say, “Oh wait, wait, I changed my mind.” So that took an immense amount of courage.

I knew I had to do it because my breakthrough moment had come a few months before prompting me to sign up for this class when my colleague died suddenly after work from stress-related illness. It was just this like flashing warning sign. I can not do this anymore. So I found Pamela and the teleseminar course shortly after that and started on the 10-week course which culminated in this wonderful Breitenbush retreat.

Before the retreat I was really scared. When I left the retreat I knew that I could do it. I was given examples from other people and this refilling of my personal power and my ability to take back who I was as a person and a healer. Today my second Breitenbush retreat six months later, I feel like I’m the healer that I was born to be. I lost that during medical school. I don’t know what I was even doing in the urgent care. I was so, so miserable. I just was not bringing forth my true gift to the world. And that’s what I’m doing now.

I feel like all day I pretty much hang out with my friends. I really thoroughly get to enjoy my patients. My clinic is located in downtown Portland and it’s in a spa with a lot of other healers, a chiropractor, psychologists, therapists, massage therapists, and I just feel really supported. I really was welcomed with open arms coming back into my community with my dream. Now I see about four patients per day. I cook my patients dinner. I swap books with them. We share stories. We share tears. I hug them. They walk my dog with me. It’s really great! It’s just really wonderful!

One of the biggest things for my healing that occurred here at Breitenbush was realizing how important community is. As healers we need this community. This is vital for the healing of so many of us. And that’s something I really recognized in my patients too. We need community in our communities. And so I encourage all my patients to attend group visits. I offer two per months. Sometimes I cook dinner, sometimes I teach yoga, sometimes I talk about sinus infections, sometimes I talk about high blood pressure. I choose topics based on what patients want and what they want to hear and they contribute. We also have visioning circles for the future of our clinic and as we’ve grown every step has been with patient input so I really feel like we are (like Pamela’s clinic) a patient-centered medical practice.

This has given me the opportunity to begin healing. I wouldn’t say that I am completely there yet, but the door has finally opened for me to move in that direction. To really examine the trauma that occurred during medical school and residency has been hard. That is hard work. It’s not easy, but it is definitely something that is part of my story now that I work on all the time. I’m so much farther than I was when I was here before. Some of that is because you do have to re-experience this pain that we just shove down. You eventually do have to move through it.

So I think for me it was the pressure of residency, the long shifts [especially during obstetrics] My least favorite part of residency as a family physician doing an OB program is that we would have clinic all day and then if we had a laboring patient at night we would stay there all night and we would stay there the next day turning into these 40 or 50-hour shifts. I literally started getting a little bit psychotic and then I had this huge trauma (in addition to being forced to work these hours, not able to eat healthy food, not able to take a moment to breathe) then having this additional stress of not being able to trust my own mind—not being able to trust myself. And that took away my ability to listen to my dream and listen to my heart—and that’s vital. That is so damaging to a person. So realizing that a lot of that was circumstantial, the circumstances of what I had been put in, but that I am a whole person. I’m a whole mind. I’m a whole body. I’m a whole healer. I’m me. This is what you get when you get me. Learning that I can do this and I can trust myself that’s been the thing that got taken away from me that’s been the hardest to get back.

Practicing relationship-based health care is actually something I was never taught that I had to sort of learn as I was going. It is a give and take with patients. I remember this one incident that happened. My clinic is very new and I don’t have anyone to cover me. I wanted to go and take this personal retreat a couple weeks ago and I told my patients, “Look I’m going to be going for ten days,” and they were so excited for me. They were like, “We’re so happy that you’re going on vacation. We’re so excited for what you’re going to learn. Did you pack sunscreen? Here’s a book . . .“  All this wonderful support. That’s when I actually realized—these are the people that are supporting me in my community-based clinic. I don’t take insurance. These people literally are the ones supporting me on all sorts of different levels. It’s a mirror for your value too because it also does show me how much they value me and the support that I give to them.

So I would say that my clinic is healing me. I would say that I’m in that process for sure. [Dr. Pamela Wible asks, “Do you feel like you are living your dreams?”] Yes, absolutely! I don’t have a house. I don’t have a car. But I am extremely happy! [laughing] I would never go back. I still would not go back. Sometimes I just think if I’m having a bad day I’ll literally go to the park with my blood pressure cuff and do donation-based blood pressure readings.

I can just do whatever I want! And its fun! And it’s okay. It’s okay.  I’m liberated.

Dr. Wible’s words of wisdom:

Assembly-line medicine is unhealthy for patients—and doctors. It’s impossible to care for people in 7-10 minute visits (often double-booked) on a 40-50-hour shift!

When doctors have been trained to accept human rights violations as “normal,” it’s often challenging to recognize the assault on one’s humanity. So the trauma continues generation after generation.

Physicians require an “immense amount of courage” to break free from abuse and stand up for their human rights to sleep, eat, and be treated with respect in a safe and caring environment.

Healing from collective trauma is best accomplished in community. We need each other. We need to share our stories. We need to tell the truth so that we can heal.

Medical training is often disempowering to the individual and may lead to loss of connection with one’s heart and soul and with the very dreams that brought us to medicine in the first place. It may take years to recover from the psychological damage of medical training. Sadly, some never recover.

A dysfunctional medical system can only exist on the backs of a disempowered physician population—the precursor of which is an abused medical student population. To heal health care we must first heal ourselves so we can stop wounding the next generation of doctors.   

All physicians deserve to live their dreams, to care for patients, to laugh and cry with them, to cook them dinner if they want to. Real health care heals the patient—and the doctor.

Ready to live your dream? Join our next Breitenbush retreat.

Can’t come to the retreat? Join the teleseminar.

Cannot wait another minute? Jump in the fast-track course now.

Pamela Wible, M.D, is a practicing physician who has devoted her life to preventing medical student and physician suicide and helping healers heal to live their dreams in medicine. She is author of Physician Suicide Letters—Answered.

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4 comments on “Medicine nearly killed her soul. How one doctor got her life back.
  1. Kris Johnston says:

    You are an AMAZING young woman! So happy a friend send this video to me. We live in Scappoose. We will definitely come to your clinic to see you if the need arises. We bucked the system too by adopting 21 children over a number of decades, we also have 4 biological children. You are a shining example of the new earth that is emerging!

  2. Marna Cessnun says:

    Thank you, Kayla, for sharing this experience. Sounds like you are doing amazing. Glad you are happy and strong! Love from Alaska!

  3. Jing says:

    I’m glad I read this amazing stories from your journey as a physician. Thanks for sharing. It’s great!

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