We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Oreck and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
As a female physician dedicated to working with primarily women in my private practice, “work life balance” might be one of the most discussed themes in my therapy sessions with patients. My psychiatric practice focuses on navigating matrescence or the transformation to motherhood, especially for women with mental health challenges including perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. For many, especially in the world of new mothers trying to juggle careers and now COVID-19, work life balance has become an even more elusive notion. Work life balance has drastically changed for me personally throughout the years. While training in medical school and residency, I felt like I had no choice but to focus exclusively on work. I was under the misapprehension that sacrificing my personal life was an unspoken rule or rite of passage in training to become a physician. During my first year of residency, after the tragic loss from suicide of several residents in the New York City area (including at the hospital where I trained), the idea of physician wellness came to the forefront at my training program and many programs throughout the country. I didn’t realize that dedicating myself exclusively to work could result in “physician burnout,” an epidemic in the United States, which involves feeling tired and drained without relief, doubting the meaning and quality of your work, and depersonalization which manifests as cynicisms or sarcasm about your work or patients. Ultimately, when physicians are burned out, patient care suffers and it can even be fatal for physicians given the risk of suicide (notably which is higher than the general population for physicians, and particularly female physicians). I purposefully chose a career outside of a hospital setting and in a private practice to maintain the highest level of autonomy over my schedule and style of practice to attempt to create more of a balance in my own life. Instead of seeing patients for 15 minute medication checks, I decided to develop a practice that fulfills my professional interests and is uniquely positioned in which I have the opportunity to work closely with patients through a combination of therapy, mindfulness practices and medication management. Currently, life in the US with its seemingly unending surges of COVID-19 cases, rapidly increasing death rates, economic devastation, and the uncertainty about relief is leading this country into a mental health crisis unlike any we have seen in the past. Balance has been particularly difficult to achieve for many of my patients struggling with home-schooling children, cooking, housework and full-time jobs. We knew before the pandemic that women, despite having full-fledged careers, were often unequally burdened with household chores and childrearing; this alarming trend has only increased in this time. Now more than ever it is essential to seek out support so that we can avoid parental burnout. This includes setting up a clear delineation of chores and tasks in the home as well as establishing boundaries between work and home, especially for those fortunate enough to be able to work from home. As I embark on my own motherhood journey and manage the recent addition of an adorable puppy to our family and the transformation of my in-person private practice to telepsychiatry, I too am struggling to find an ideal balance during this time. We may not be as physically connected during these times, though it’s important, and perhaps reassuring, to remember that we are all experiencing this together.
What should our readers know about your business?
I provide highly personalized and empathic treatment to women throughout the reproductive life cycle. What sets me apart from other psychiatrists is my belief that medications are only one tool in our toolbox and that the road to recovery requires a more integrated and holistic approach. I believe in treating both body and mind through breathing and meditation in addition to talk therapy and the most up-to-date medication treatments. I am also a first-generation Latina and speak fluent Spanish and I’m passionate about being able to see Spanish-speaking patients in their native language. It definitely took time to establish myself and my practice in the community but it has been a wonderful experience. Shifting from in-person to telemedicine due to the COVID-19 has probably been the most significant challenge and has required considerable adjustment and flexibility both for me and my patients. In addition to my private practice, I am also actively engaged in building my Instagram and contributing to media work dedicated to providing education about women’s mental health in English and Spanish.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Although I’m originally from Los Angeles, I only recently moved back two years ago after living in New York City for close to a decade, so in some ways, my husband and I are still exploring new spots (which was interrupted by COVID-19). Before COVID-19, I would start our tour on the Westside because my husband and I live in the gorgeous Santa Monica. I would start off by strolling our neighborhood and Montana Avenue which is filled with small shops and our favorite local coffee shop, Primo Passo. We would then stop off for a bite at Cassia, a Southeast Asian restaurant, which is also walking distance and absolutely delicious. I love that you can go from an urban environment to the great outdoors in a 10 minute drive, so I would definitely recommend hiking one of our favorite spots called the Will Rogers trail in the Pacific Palisades. I would also highly recommend driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to take in the scenic views of the ocean and stop off at the Getty Villa, which houses the impressive Roman and Greek collection in one of the most spectacular replicas of a traditional Roman villa. Although we are partial to the Westside of Los Angeles, we absolutely love some of the museums on the Eastside of town including The Broad, MOCA and LACMA. My husband loves Mexican food so we love trying family run spots in East LA and downtown as well as the awesome restaurants in the Arts District. A note about my itinerary is that it’s not one that I would recommend at this time and given the increase in case numbers of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, we are all safer-at-home at this time.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Maternal Mental Health Now (MMHN) is an incredible organization that I’m fortunate to have connected with since I moved back to Los Angeles from New York City two years ago. They are dedicated to removing barriers to prevention, screening and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders in pregnancy and the postpartum period through advocacy and education initiatives. I initially began volunteering with them and I now serve as a board member of the organization. A solo private practice can feel isolating and MMHN has allowed me to form a strong community with colleagues who are passionate about maternal mental health.
professional photos by Sarah Noel Photography (http://sarahnoeldesigns.com/)