Why would a fifty-something MD start a PhD program in Clinical Psychology ?

…and what does it have to do with this photo?

Why would a fifty-something MD start a PhD program in Clinical Psychology AND what does it have to do with this photo? After 25 plus years in medicine, the one thing I know to my core is that “LOVE HURTS” as the photo says. Love can hurt when our hearts are open; open hearted regarding our own humanity; open to being connected to our fellow human beings; open to being witness to pain and illness; open to suffering. This is the way I look at it. When you are a healer (not just a doctor/MD/DO/NP/PA), you practice with your heart; you open your heart to see the suffering of others, to hold it a moment, and then work to offer assistance. This is also called empathy and compassion and it is who we are at our core. I firmly believe this. Look back to the reason you went into medical school (nursing school, PA school, etc). I know it was because you thought you could make a difference, that you could help people. That is who we are at our core and what we either; turn off, mute, or drown in as we work to navigate medical training and the healthcare world.

To have an open heart risks being hurt, risks letting yourself be in love with your patients, risks being overwhelming and too much to bear at times, and it can risk your health, relationships, and even life, if your open heart is abused. And, I am sure that I am not the only one who has had this seeming desirable trait of an open heart as a physician abused, made wrong, or at least anesthetized.

My heart hurts for our profession. I used to love, love, love my profession. But, I had to walk away for a while because I almost died. Death from a broken heart at the impossibility of doing it perfectly and a way congruent with providing patient-centered care; a broken psyche, thinking I was a weak misfit and abused as a doctor in training,  and broken body from the lack of sleep, bad habits, and stress levels. I thought seriously about suicide. Did you know suicide is the leading cause of death in male residents (Gold, Sen, Schwenk, 2013; Yaghmour, et al., 2017)? Did you know female physicians are more than three times as likely as their non-physician counterparts to commit suicide (Sinha, 2014; Yaghmour, et al., 2017)? Roughly, a doctor a day is lost to suicide. . .that is why I started a PhD program in psychology. Healing my heart has been a journey and brought me to want to make a difference once again; to enter back into the the world of medicine again – this time with my colleagues.

Some of you would ask me “Why would you want to do Psychology, rather than be a Psychiatrist?” My answer is that I believe the system of medical training and medical leadership is broken, and a broken profession is too close, too involved, too sick itself to heal itself. I believe we need “outside” help. We are dealing with the psyche and soul of medicine; the psyche and soul of physicians; the psyche and soul of fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, sisters, sons and daughters, friends. My psychology endeavors are focused on making an impact to prevent physician suicide, and finding ways to nourish the soul and heal the psyche of the physician warriors doing their best in the current system. I am examining and searching for the answers — from a humanistic, existential, transpersonal and positive psychology viewpoint (more on that in later posts!).

I have been a life coach for several years and am pleased to be offering coaching services to my colleagues now. (I say “now” because when I first felt this calling, about 8 years ago, I was still a mess myself. I strongly believe you have to do the work of healing and it takes practice of new habits and taking and practicing the coaching you learn, to be healthy enough to be a good coach.) I love, love, love my profession AND I love, love, love coaching. It is grand to have them both and to be able to be in this unique position to reach out to others.

Stay tuned and join me on this journey!

What do you think? What has your journey been like? Feel free to comment.




Gold, K. J., Sen, A., & Schwenk, T. L. (2013). Details on suicide among U.S. physicians: Data from the nation violent death reporting system. General Hospital Psychiatry, 35(1), 45-49. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2012.08.005

Sinha P. (2014, September 4). Why do doctors commit suicide? N Y Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/05/

Yaghmour, N. A., Brigham, T. P., Richter, T., Miller, R. S., Philiber, I., et al. (2017). Causes of death of residents in ACGME accredited programs 2000 through 2014: Implication for the learning environment. Academic Medicine, 92(7), 976-983. doi: 10.1097/acm.0000000000001736.

3 thoughts on “Why would a fifty-something MD start a PhD program in Clinical Psychology ?

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  1. Dearest Robyn,

    Having met you on a medical trip that, upfront, required strength, love, and compassion for people who had never had medical access, I applaud your taking off in this direction. As a person who has suffered from major depressive episodes in my life, I applaud you for seeing that this is an area that needs to be addressed. I support you whole-heartedly in what you’ve taken on.

    And, I love you.


  2. My dear friend. Your intentions are miraculous. After years of nursing, I too just wore out. I left nursing as our for-profit health care system began eroding my dream. My dream of delivering safe and nurturing health care to families became a nightmare of competition and focus on saving money. Staff cuts which resulted in frenzied shifts which resulted in never having enough time to do the things that really made a difference for new babies, moms, dads and extended families. It became a war zone of sorts….get folks out of the hospital as soon as possible. No infrastructure in the community to support new parents. And certainly no structures to support care takers who give themselves to others in an effort to make a difference.

    Thank you for taking on this adventure of yours.

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