Dr. Hannah Woebkenberg is an emergency medicine physician working in three San Francisco Bay Area hospital emergency rooms. It's only May and she's already been to the Dominican Republic to set up health clinics for the underserved and then New Mexico to build sustainable homes by hand.
Tell us about a recent time you felt really proud of yourself.
I make a point to end every shift feeling proud of the work I did, and of the connection I made with my patients. One of my proudest moments though was when I was working in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak a couple years ago. I designed and created a 7’ x 35’ color mural near the Ebola treatment center in Monrovia. I spent over 20 hours painting this mural with the help of two local guys, and the community response was overwhelming. I was so touched when locals stopped by to thank me. Even local artists dropped by, asking to share their artwork with me. At a time when people couldn’t even share the simplest of comforts like a human touch (for fear of contracting Ebola), I saw for the first time how my art, rather than my medical skill, could help heal others.
I make a point to end every shift feeling proud of the work I did, and the connection I made with my patients.
What's something about you that might surprise others?
I love up-cycling trash! My dining table, chandelier and curtains are all made from items found in dumpsters near my home. I just got back from attending the Earthship Academy in New Mexico where I learned to build (by hand) eco-sustainable, off-the-grid homes from items like used tires, aluminum cans and glass bottles. I also make art using second-hand pantyhose. Even though I was pre-med, I studied art in college. Creating art has always let me find a strong personal balance with practicing medicine.
Biggest insecurity or fear, and how do you manage it?
I've started to think more about what use fear has in my life and usually I end up deciding that it doesn't serve me. A couple years ago I would've told you that I'm afraid I'm not doing enough for others, or for humanity. But I don't think I still believe that. I'm pretty sure this fear comes from being super hard on myself...I definitely find it helpful to be more mindful of the expectations that I set for myself and to have more self-compassion.
How do you de-stress or recharge outside of, or during, work?
Every morning before work I practice yoga for 30 minutes. And when I'm at work, I remind myself to take a few deep breaths in between patients...this re-energerizes me and helps me be a better doctor. I also regularly meditate, which might involve breath work, dancing or chanting. Like my art, all of these practices help give me the balance I need in my line of work.
I also regularly meditate, which might involve breath work, dancing or chanting. Like my artwork, all of these practices help give me the balance I need in my line of work.
Painting, drawing and sketching are all great stress-busters, even if it's only for 10 minutes a day. If you have a friend or colleague in healthcare who's looking for inspiration on how to unleash their creative side, please share this post with them.
We love to hear about how healthcare professionals are doing the whole work-life balance thing. If you know someone who can teach us a thing or two, email us their details (with their permission, of course).
Learn more about Hannah's artwork and upcoming exhibits here.
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