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Preserving Genuine Compassion and Healing with Dr. Sasha Shillcutt

Dr. Sasha Shillcutt has learned from practicing medicine that when we focus on ourselves and our relationships, we can connect and properly heal others.

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Dr. Sasha K. Shillcutt, MD, MS, FASE, is a Tenured Professor, well-published gender researcher, author, designer, international speaker, and CEO and founder of Brave Enough. On top of all of that, Dr. Shillcutt is a physician, wife, and mother. She has vowed to devote her life to healing others by combining the proper time and compassion needed to connect and heal with those around her.

Thank you so much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what early experiences brought you to choosing a career in the medical profession?

In college, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Paraguay for a term, and work with a physician there. While he was based in Asuncion, he would load up a truck on the weekends with supplies and head on out to villages for a mobile clinic and public health education. It opened my eyes to what physicians truly are: teachers and healers. That experience solidified my desire to devote my life to healing others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career as a doctor?

It’s hard to pick one instance or experience that shaped me, as medicine is a journey full of highs and lows, which have both impacted my life greatly. In my book, Between Grit and Grace, I tell one of the most significant patient experiences that taught me a lot about grief, forgiveness, and ultimately grace. I can tell you most of what I have learned in medicine has been through loss, and through being a part of a cardiac team that takes care of extremely ill individuals daily. I’ve been able to see some incredible resilience and also learn daily what is truly important in life. Medicine has taught me that it’s people, and our relationships we have with others, that truly matter most.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out on your career? What lesson did you learn from that?

One that comes to mind is the first time I called the blood bank to order blood for a very large procedure, a liver transplant, my first month of anesthesia residency. I had no idea what or how much to order for the patient, but I had ordered plenty of the standard “two units of red blood cells, please” over the phone as an intern in internal medicine. So, I called and ordered two units of everything I could: red blood cells, plasma, platelets, and cryoglobulin. Not only did I under order, but I also ordered essentially a few milliliters of cryoglobulin, which the blood bank had to divide many times to get right, and was pointless. No one on my team let me live that one down, and I still laugh about my naivete to this day.

To #DareToCare means to survive and thrive in today’s medical world. How do you take care of yourself? What’s the routine you must do to thrive every day?

I spend thirty minutes a day by myself. Sometimes I write, mostly I walk, sometimes I decompress with hot tea and a book. I didn’t always do this, and I burned out in 2013, and nearly left medicine. As a busy mom and physician, I know myself well enough to know I have to spend 30 minutes a day completely unplugged, hopefully outside, and processing my thoughts.

I write a series of letters to my God-daughter in my latest book. In that same vein, what are 5 things you would tell your younger self? 

I would tell myself the following things:

  1. Slow down. Life is a journey and don’t be in a rush searching for the “next thing.”
  2. Forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. Forgive them.
  3. Enjoy your children, even the rough stages. Each minute spent with them is an investment into the worlds’ future.
  4. Be kinder to yourself than necessary. You will get farther with self-compassion than you will with self-criticism.
  5. Speak up and be your authentic you. Never let others limit’s become your own.

How can medical professionals reclaim heart-based healing amid pandemic, political, and other pressures?

I think it starts with being healthy ourselves. When I am empty, burned out, exhausted and worn down, I don’t have much to give. I am not as empathetic, understanding, patient or clear in my thinking. When we take time to recover from the trauma of our lives in medicine, and really recover and recharge, we can heal from a place of wellness ourselves. We will connect with others more authentically and wholly.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your work as a healthcare professional? Can you explain?

I am sort of a podcast junkie. I like a variety of podcasts, one of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz. While it is a show about entrepreneurs, the guests share innovative and creative strategies for problem solving, and there’s an underlying theme of resilience. It inspires me to think differently in my job, and also to keep going.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence in the healthcare community. If you could inspire other doctors and nurses to bring change to affect the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Said another way, what difference do you see needs to be made for our collective future?

I think we need to value one another as work colleagues and have physician–led administrative teams where decisions are made. Medicine can be terribly isolating, and we often do not realize how we, as a work colleague, may be a lifeline of hope for our colleagues or teammates. We as physicians will be the ones to heal the practice of medicine, and reverse the high rates of burnout, but only if we have the power to make decisions to do so.

How can people connect with you?

They can follow me on Instagram at @becomebraveenough or on Twitter @rubraveenough, or find me on my website becomebraveenough.com to sign up for my weekly encouragement to your inbox.

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