“We had a seriously ill patient who was under the influence of multiple substances. I should never have gone into the office alone with him but in the moment, I wanted to contain the situation. I kept waiting for him to assault me. At one point he turned his back and I quickly texted ‘help’ to a colleague. She was able to distract him long enough for us to get out,” explained Dr. Nicole C. Brathwaite, Psychiatrist, Activist and Entrepreneur. This traumatic experience at work led Nicole to a brilliant idea and career reset.
Our wellbeing is always at stake regardless of the work we do. And, when we’re passionate about our careers, we’re willing to invest. But it’s easy to slip from service into self-sacrifice without noticing. Even the most enlightened employers can fail to deliver necessary support. And many of us linger in jobs long after the promises of more staff, benefits or flexibility are broken.
Career change in the COVID-19 economy may feel scary. But, when work has flipped upside down, is the perfect time to explore our choices, including entrepreneurship. Learn how Nicole escaped burnout, developed a new product and launched a multi-faceted business that honors her values.
Make Safety & Support Non-Negotiable
Nicole said, “Often times for people who are caregivers, we assume we have to sacrifice ourselves. Even if we’re working in positions where we don’t have the necessary support or equipment to do our jobs, we do it anyway.” Exactly. This is particularly troubling as she works with COVID-19 responders. She explained, “It’s like what a lot of doctors are doing right now, buying or building their own masks because the system can’t support them.” We all need safety at work. In fields where physical safety is rarely at risk, we still need psychological safety and mutual trust to thrive. Unfortunately, women are still less likely to negotiate when conditions at work aren’t right. Nicole said, “I realized that I don’t have to sacrifice myself to care for other people. I realized I have value. Working in situations where that’s not acknowledged is not the best outcome for me.” Amen!
Innovate From Experience
Nicole’s experience of being trapped with a violent patient is not uncommon in her field. She explained, “Many staff members have been injured when they couldn’t get out or get access to help. Many community health centers can’t afford to hardwire panic buttons.” Nicole knew that she was fortunate to escape and wanted safer conditions for her peers. She said, “My husband works in information technology so, we decided to create an app to directly call 911 or alert a front desk in an office. Sometimes, you don’t need the police but you need assistance.” Brilliant! Nicole knew she could have a meaningful impact on this problem as an entrepreneur. She was intentional about having flexibility. So, while launching the app she created a different model for her work with patients.
Reconnect to Your Why
She said, “Mental health is tough because it often doesn’t reimburse well, so there’s a lot of pressure to focus on volume over quality. In September, when I left my full-time Psychiatric position, I had burned out. I have certain standards for myself and when I couldn’t deliver the quality of care, I decided to step away from it.” Bravo. She said, “I transitioned to telepsychiatry. I’m licensed in a few different states and initially started work with a family clinic in Illinois because there are just no psychiatrists available in certain rural areas. I literally see patients from age 5 to 85 in that community!” I started doing that half-time, because I also wanted to maintain my commitment to working with underserved local communities and have more flexibility.” The telepsychiatry was a precursor to shifts she ultimately made for COVID19.
It’s Okay. Embrace Pandemic Pivots
Nicole found new ways to serve her local community and build her skills as a business owner. She said, “I specialize in children and also, postpartum and pregnant women. Given the mortality rates around black women and pregnancy and recognizing that depression contributes to that, I wanted to make myself available to women and families of color.” Yes! She added, “I also work with schools. I’ve been encouraging teachers to understand that systemic bias and racism in schools traumatizes kids of color. I love training but that part of my business has stopped. The talks, 2 or 3 per month over the next 6 months have all been cancelled or postponed. I’m exploring some virtual webinars but everyone is so stressed out right now, it’s hard to ask people to focus on anything else.” I laughed because it’s true and the Zoom fatigue is real! She has found a surprising upside to the video visits and said, “I’ve switched to Telemedicine with my private practice. It’s not ideal because there is more comfort meeting with people in person. But in some ways, it’s better to see people in their environments. I see a ton of kids. So, I’ve been meeting their pets, they show me their rooms and sometimes their guard is down even more because they’re so comfortable communicating online.”
A Chaotic Time Can Still Be the Right Time
When Nicole left her full-time role last year, she couldn’t have imagined establishing a new venture and private practice while supporting people through a global mental health crisis. The demand for her time and expertise increased when her support infrastructure at home changed radically. If you missed part one from this amazing interview with Nicole, about how to engage in self-care, set realistic expectations with little ones and develop a pandemic-friendly schedule, please enjoy How to Make Healthy Choices Under Extraordinary Conditions.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the CEO and Founder of Well Minds Psychiatry. She is also the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
She regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.