Dr. Romie Mushtaq is triple-boarded, but why did she leave her clinical practice? We talk about changing career paths in medicine, the importance of mindfulness, and more!
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[00:39] About Dr. Romie Mushtaq
Dr. Romie is a triple board-certified physician who’s on a mission to transform the brain and mental health in the workplace. She’s a professional speaker and workplace wellness consultant for Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, and global associations.
Dr. Romie has served as chief wellness officer for Evolution Hospitality, where she scaled a mindfulness and wellness program to over 7,000 employees. Her expertise is routinely featured in the national media such as NPR, NBC, Ted Talks, and Forbes. Dr. Romi is the founder of the brainSHIFT Protocol, which brings together her innovative research based on neurology, integrative medicine, and mindfulness.
“Life doesn’t have to end with clinical medicine.”
Dr. Romie doesn’t practice clinical medicine anymore. But I wanted to bring her on to not only talk about her clinical medicine past, which involves neurology and integrative medicine, but also the transition to a non-clinical career.
Now obviously, this podcast is about specialty stories. But we can also talk about non-clinical specialties that life may bring you and we dive into that a ton. This is a good episode to show you that life doesn’t have to end with clinical medicine.
[02:07] Interest in Neurology
Dr. Romie is her stubborn drive not to fail because she was struggling to learn neuroanatomy. And that was the initial point. But then she realized the precision of neurology and neuroscience. Everything was a system and a process with an outcome. And this was what drew her to the field because it fits her personality.
She entered neurology at a time where less than 5% of neurologists were women, and let alone, a woman of color.
It wasn’t until she took care of her first epilepsy patient, that she had this yearning that was something spiritual. She felt it was where she was meant to be. You’re often pressured to choose a specialty because of a family member that was in medicine or a health crisis you or a loved one may have had. But when you’re going through your rotations, you will just be drawn to something if you keep your mind and your heart open.
“When you’re going through your rotations, you will just be drawn to something if you keep your mind and your heart open.”
[06:16] Double-Boarded in Neurology and Integrative Medicine
After neurology, Dr. Romie did two fellowships, one in neurophysiology focused on EEG and then the second year of epilepsy surgery. She was headed towards a highly successful academic career in epilepsy.
Dr. Romie gave a TED Talk speech called The Powerful Secret of Your Breath. Before physician burnout or career burnout was even a diagnosis or it was even studied, she was starting to have the symptoms. She was running like a madwoman working hundred plus hours a week. In academic medicine, you’re on-call in an Epilepsy Monitoring Unit where emergency is 24/7. Even when you’re not on call, if it’s your patient, you go in.
She had really complicated epilepsy patients who are pregnant or and preparing for surgery. She was doing research and teaching medical students. She didn’t know how to manage my stress.
Ten years ago, she ended up very sick and ended up in life-saving surgery. Then she found a path to mindfulness and the path to integrative medicine.
Dr. Romie ended up traveling around the world working with mindfulness teachers. Coming back, she realized it was bigger than her and she needed to take this back to her patients. That was what led her to go into integrative medicine.
She actually left the practice of integrative medicine two years ago because her company focusing on workplace wellness and mindfulness has taken off. And she just had no time to see one-on-one patients.
[09:31] Her Thought Process for Leaving Clinical Medicine
After her surgery, Dr. Romie went back into practice. She was still pursuing this path of how to study integrative medicine and mindfulness. She thought if she left the rat race of academic medicine and went into Community Medicine, it’ll be better.
What was holding her back was the idea that she had spent all this time in clinical medicine, but her vision was so much bigger than that. She had this “knowing” in her soul.
“If you’re leaving because you’re frustrated and you’re looking for another way out, you’ll never be happy.”
She actually went to go see a psychiatrist because her parents told her she was crazy for wanting to become an entrepreneur. And so she sat down with a psychiatrist and she told them what her vision was. She wasn’t charged for the session because they thought her idea was fascinating. They told her she was going to pull this off.
A lot of us have stereotypical parents who expect us to tread on a traditional path but that path of thinking is old and linear. We now live in a non-linear society.
This is 2020 where society and technology are advancing at a rapid rate. Regardless of your profession, people on average are going to have three to seven different career tracks in their lifetime.
Look at it a certain way that your medical school years and your residency and fellowship, are all stepping stones in a career that could be a nonclinical or a clinical track. Take this knowledge and head into a different industry and help to impact change.
[15:00] Making the Shifts from Medicine to Entrepreneurship
Dr. Romie admits she’s an academic at heart even today and that research is her forte. She knew she wanted to stay in academic medicine. She loves to teach. In fact, she won teaching awards as a resident and as an attending. It wasn’t a burden to her. There just never were enough hours in the day.
In academic medicine, they no longer have protected time to do research or teach. They all had to be done while maintaining a full-time clinical practice. So that became the challenge.
But all those things she learned while she was in academic medicine have helped her in serving as a C-suite executive chief wellness officer in a company of 7,000 employees. She learned how to scale a mindfulness and wellness program from the front desk to the CEO. And those are the skills that she was able to translate.
So it made perfect sense that had she not spent that time in academic medicine and learning those skills, it would have been very difficult to make that shift to do what she does now. Those are the critical thinking skills, those leadership skills, and the ability to create and execute a business plan.
[18:02] How to Practice Mindfulness on This Premed Journey
Take care of our own health and wellbeing. In becoming a doctor, you’re one of the most resilient humans that are out there. But that doesn’t mean you can sacrifice your mind, your body, and your spirit. We’re seeing that culture change now where we don’t want to sacrifice our health and our family for our career.
“Do something for your mind, do something for your body, and do something for your spirit because that’s how we affect organizational change.”
We, as a medical community, can’t create effective change for medical students, residents, and doctors at the front lines unless we take care of our health first. You can bring organizational change if you’re not taking care of yourself.
In medicine, there is this old way of thinking of you have to sacrifice your soul and your body as a doctor for the sake of your patients. That needs to stop. You can’t be an effective doctor unless you have your own gas tank full. You need to take a break.
Dr. Romie adds that the blessing of the pandemic is that it makes us really reevaluate how organizations are run ineffectively from top to bottom. And given the stress that is on the doctors, the nurses, and all the health care providers out there, that is going to change.
When Dr. Romie left Neurology due to burnout, she was seen as a physician failure. She was even told it’s what happens when you let women into the academy. But today, there are hospital systems that are implementing chief wellness officers and mindfulness programs. And so the culture change is happening.
“Take care of your health first, and then find a path that you can create change.”
You’re not going to be able to change all of healthcare. That’s going to seem overwhelming. So find one pathway where you can advocate – whether it’s in your specialty, or for the indigent patient care – that would make a difference. Whether it’s fighting for reduction and drug prices, whatever it is, find that one thing and focus your energy there. And if each one of us can do that, then we would be creating this seismic shift in health care.
[26:04] Advice to Women in Medicine
Dr. Romie remembers when she was interviewing for academic medicine positions, literally one of the chairmen who interviewed her told her that they needed to know her plan for pregnancy. They said they can’t hire her if she’s going to become pregnant in the next five years. The last female they hired who got pregnant had complications, and it cost the department a million dollars because she was out for six months.
Number one, know your rights as a female medical student and a resident and talk to a good labor attorney when you’re negotiating your contract. And in the fields of STEM, women still have the largest pay gap of all in 2020 and we need to fix that.
“Make your own individual plan, don’t let society make the plan for you.”
Life is not linear. As doctors, we’ve been taught to plan. You’re going to plan in high school to be premed in college. When you’re in premed, you need to plan for a certain amount of things of your GPA and your MCAT. Getting into med school and your residency, we’re always planning. And a lot of women think they need to plan when they’re going to get married and have kids. And that is what will drive you absolutely insane.
Every woman is going to navigate that path differently. Whether you want to get married, have children, or be a single mother, or have a partner, these are all very personal decisions. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Everyone’s journey is going to be different.
“You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.”
[30:36] The Goal vs. the Journey
One of the basics of mindfulness is training your brain to be present, and be here now in a place of non-judgment, whatever that emotion is. But as we go deeper into our mindfulness journey, we tap into this joy that is inherent with all of us and compassion, no matter what’s going on in our external lives.
Dr. Romie is an entrepreneur and highly successful. Then everything fell apart in COVID. She lost 80% of her revenue in March that was already contracted for 2020. It felt bad on the exterior. That’s an example of having very reasonable financial goals.
But her mindfulness practice still reminded her there was joy in a moment. You can have both at once, it’s not one or the other. She’s ending this year strong, having recovered. Right now, her next step is to build this online mental health technology platform for the workplace.
Then day-to-day, there’s the journey. And each journey has its ups and downs. So you’re going to have moments of joy, and you’re going to have moments of pain in the day, and that’s being present in each day. And that’s having both a goal and a journey day to day.
And to find joy in your day, you just have to close your eyes and think of one thing in your day that you feel so thankful for. Just relive that moment and this will release oxytocin and serotonin in your brain that causes you to feel good and have a good sleep.
[33:49] How to Cultivate an Entrepreneurial Spirit
The secret of every entrepreneur is you focus on one project or one thing or one income revenue stream at a time. Test it. There’s proof of concept and you grow it and then you go on to the next thing.
“The secret of every entrepreneur is you focus on one project or one thing or one income revenue stream at a time.”
You can’t chase the shiny object and the same thing is true for your medical career. So if you know you’re heading into a non-clinical career, research it in your free time. But right now, do the best you can at medical school. Don’t just blow off the top topics that are not interesting to you. You’ll be surprised how many of those topics come back up.
[35:51] Final Words of Wisdom
When you’re unsure, you’re going to enjoy the journey even more. When you come in with this premeditated plan that you must go into a certain specialty, you must get residency or fellowship in a certain hospital, you’ll probably achieve it.
You’re a medical student, you’re highly successful, and you may get your second choice. You’re just checking off boxes in life. And there’s not much joy in that, just a temporary joy.
You got into your first choice for residency or you got into your specialty. And then you’re always going to want to be seeking more. You’re always looking for the next thing or the goal or the superficial item or title that you can check off your to-do lists.
But life is about your experiences. Life is really about the relationships you’re going to have and the experiences and the things you’ll do. So don’t forget to be present in today even if it’s a small moment like your dog licking the inside of your wrist to say hello.
Dr. Romie’s TEDx Talk: The Powerful Secret of Your Breath
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