Turning Adversity into Opportunity: Meet Stacia Dearmin, MD, Founder of Thrive, supporting physicians through adverse outcomes and malpractice litigation
TransforMD: Describe your traditional path in medicine:
Stacia: I went to medical school at Case Western Reserve University, a wonderful school with a long history of welcoming "bent arrows" like me. I completed general pediatric training at Akron Children's Hospital in 1995, and first practiced general pediatrics with a large group in Mentor, OH. In about 2000, pediatric EDs began to pop up in community hospitals around the country, and I was invited to moonlight in one. I loved the work, and found it gave me more time with my young family. I transitioned fully into that setting about 15 years ago, and have been there ever since. In 2015, I returned to the ED at Akron Children's where I teach and practice today.
TransforMD: What was the turning point or inspiration for you to make a major shift in your career? What are you doing differently now?
Stacia: In 2012, I had a life-changing experience. A young patient died quite unexpectedly, and I struggled for some time with deep pain and self-doubt around that event. Not surprisingly, malpractice litigation ensued, ultimately resulting in a 3-week trial three and a half years after my patient died. Living through that period of my life was, without exception, the hardest thing I have ever done. In the course of my trial, I became aware of the epidemic of physician suicide and felt strongly that the sort of experience I was having must be one important contributor to that epidemic. Knowing as I do from the ED that any one suicide represents the tip of an iceberg of a much larger number of people hurting, I became acutely aware of the depths of suffering which must exist among the community of physicians around hard patient outcomes and malpractice litigation. I was moved to turn my very difficult experience into a source of healing, and have pursued that goal unceasingly since that time. Developing my body of knowledge and cultivating my skills along the way has brought me a whole new world. I am now a nationally recognized speaker on the matter of our experience of adverse outcomes and litigation, and my blog and other publications are read internationally. I coach individual physicians and am available to consult with defense lawyers and those who support physicians, and am developing other resources to provide education and support to physicians suffering after a hard outcome or through a lawsuit. I had no idea when I began how very deeply my work would touch other physicians, and it is that heart-aspect which moves me most. At every event where I speak, tears emerge for someone if not numerous someones. Those tears are healing tears, and I feel proud to be able to create a safe space for them to emerge. They remind me every time how much we as a community need a safe space for this conversation.
TransforMD: Did you have doubts or hurdles along the way? What was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
Stacia: The night before I gave my first presentation on this topic to my own co-workers, I thought, "What the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks am I doing?!?" I worried that colleagues would think less of me, viewing me as an inadequate physician. It didn't play out that way at all! I have now learned that physicians -- being generally courageous, humane people -- are drawn to courage and my deeply human story. Rather than seeing me as inadequate, many view me as powerful and generous for being willing to invite them into the very part of my life that scares us all most. I also experienced enormous internal resistance around publishing my early blog posts, and sometimes still do. Honestly, though, the very experience which drives me to do this work empowers me to move forward. If there's one thing that life experience taught me, it's that our deep imperfections are the very places where growth is waiting to occur. I turn my focus to my purpose and remind myself that touching the life of one physician can have a ripple effect on tens of thousands of patients over time.
TransforMD: Imagine you could travel back in time and give yourself an important piece of advice. What would it be, and when would have been the most important time in life to receive it?
Stacia: If I could talk to the stunned woman I was after my patient's unexpected death, I would invite her to have faith that even the most terrible, frightening experiences have the potential to bear beautiful fruit. That fruit doesn't wipe away the hardship, but it is a hard-won part of a life well-lived. Watch for it, and trust that it will come.
TransforMD: How do you feel the TransforMD Mastery Retreat would benefit and be important to women physicians who are wanting some change but not sure what to do or how to do it?
Physicians as a group are often deeply creative, spiritual people, and yet, those sides of ourselves are pushed to the side in the course of our daily work. We become very skilled at compartmentalizing, but sometimes compartmentalize ourselves right out of our joy and creativity! It has been enormously valuable to me to open space in my life for considering those sides of who I am and how they interface with every aspect of my life.