In It Together

Together, the Taylors have experienced the highs and lows of their medical careers and now they are using their experiences to support their colleagues who are dealing with burn out and disillusionment

By Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

Drs. Colin and Sara Taylor, MD’98, met in 1994 during their first week of medical school, and they have been together ever since.

They are now comfortably settled in Victoria, British Columbia after experiencing life in eastern and western Canada and providing care to their communities. Together, they have embraced all the joys and sorrows life has to offer, and with personal experience on their side, they are actively providing support and solutions to physicians experiencing burnout and disillusionment with the health care system, while at the same time, helping to eliminate the stigma of mental illness suffered by physicians.

Raised in the Maritimes, neither were sure what to expect when they arrived in London, Ontario for medical school. They were happily surprised and instantly fell in love with the University and the city. “We loved our time in London and at Western,” said Sara. “It was so good to us, the campus was beautiful, and the people were wonderful.”

Soon they fell in love with each other, and were married during their second year of medical school. A couple’s match in Calgary followed, with Sara matching to Family Medicine and Colin initially matching to Psychiatry, but then switching into Radiology.

Five years later, the Taylor family had grown to four. With two young children in tow, they moved to Prince Edward Island to begin their practices. There, they worked in a system that they can only describe as overwhelming. Colin worked in a small understaffed group of radiologists and began noticing the early signs of burnout because of the stress and demands of the role.

Searching for change, the Taylor family headed out west to Red Deer, Alberta.

Colin joined a great team, but each year, the practice was managing increased volumes, dealing with increased demands, and he was feeling a loss of control. The change they had hoped for didn’t come to fruition.

“I was always exhausted,” he said. “I experienced persistent headaches, a lack of enthusiasm, a dread of work; I was no longer inspired and didn’t feel rejuvenated after time off.”

Colin is not alone.

In 2017, the Canadian Medical Association reported at their annual meeting that 54 per cent of Canadian physicians experience symptoms of burnout. The situation is no more positive across the globe.

In 2018, Reuters reported that, according to a Medscape survey, nearly two-thirds of doctors in the U.S. feel burnout, depressed or both. In the United Kingdom, the issue is described as rampant, and in 2017, the British National Health Service invested $24 million (US) to treat burnout in general practitioners.

Around that time, Sara happened to be working for the Physician Health Program and was able to recognize that their lifestyle was no longer sustainable.

“Being part of the Program was eye opening,” said Sara. “I learned how difficult it is for people, and specifically physicians, who are feeling burnout, to come forward. There is a feeling of shame and a questioning of ability.”

The Taylors saw the gravity of the problem, and were all too familiar with the growing incidence of physician suicide that sometimes accompanied depression and burnout; they knew a major lifestyle change was necessary. So they developed a four year plan.

Sara had been actively engaging on Twitter, and writing a blog focused on topics such as emotional, physical and nutritional wellness. The weekly posts allowed Sara to explore her creative side while offering ideas, opinions and hopefully guidance to others.

As the Taylors changed their own lives, explored the topic of physician wellness and engaged with people from around the world on this critical conversation, they began wondering if they could develop more resources for physicians and their families.

“We wanted to take our experience and our own learnings and come up with a platform to inspire and empower others to make
changes in their own lives.” —Dr. Colin Taylor, MD’98

“We wanted to take our experience and our own learnings and come up with a platform to inspire and empower others to make changes in their own lives,” Colin said.

They developed Physicians For Physicians, which offers online courses, retreats, articles, a weekly newsletter and resources for physicians and their families. They are also spending much more time building awareness and serving as physician wellness advocates on social media. Their Twitter account @docs4docs curates information and engages actively with  people from around the world as it offers access to articles, research and publications, as well as initiatives all supporting physicians.

Believing that the burnout situation for physicians isn’t improving, the Taylors remain committed to helping.

“As spouses of physicians, we’ve gone through this journey and we are coming from a place of understanding. In the end we want to support our colleagues,” said Sara.

In 2017, the Taylors and their two teenage children made the move from Red Deer to Victoria. They admit that the move to a new province didn’t alone make a difference. They try to be physically active, they get outside as much as they can, they eat fresh, local food every day, and they spend a lot of time with their kids.

“We have simplified our lives, and we are loving every minute of it together,” Colin said.