Life Road Back with Dr. Carla Rotering

For Dr. Rotering, the path back to recovery from burnout started with some truthful words from a colleague. That launched her on a journey of self-reflection, education, and discovery.

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Dr. Rotering is a Pulmonary and Critical Care physician, leader, mentor, and coach who is deeply committed to people–to their growth, upliftment, resilience, and purpose as they strive toward the best version of themselves in their professional and personal lives. She supports mastery for individuals and organizations by employing both experiential and introspective processes. Carla delivers her guidance and expertise with full-hearted enthusiasm, caring, wisdom, and humor. Her life experience and training have offered her a deep appreciation for the role of coaching and mentoring as it contributes to evolving human potential and our shared ability to expand and grow toward collaboration, excellence, and integrity.

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Access the Show Transcript Here


[0:00] I think we all have a deep inner innate wisdom that wants us to thrive, that wants us to step forward in a world with more joy and more connection and more purpose and more meaning.

[0:14] There are times in our lives that change the way we see the world. Navigating these challenges can take insight, trusted confidence, or even a coach.
Let’s explore those moments.
In this companion podcast to RX for Success, we will discover ways to learn and write our own success stories together. I’m Dr. Dale Waxman, a physician coach with MD Coaches, and this is Life Changing Moments.

[0:45] Today, we’re talking with Dr. Carla Rotering. You might remember Dr. Rotering from the RX for Success episode number 40.
In case you missed it, we’ll include a link to that episode in our show notes.
Rotering is a pulmonary and critical care physician from Phoenix, Arizona, where she also coaches health care professionals to live to their fullest.
I am privileged to call Carla my friend, and I’m grateful for her warm, caring presence, which I’m sure all of her colleagues and patients also get to experience in a wonderful way.
So, Dr. Rotarin, Carla, welcome to Life Changing Moments.

[1:24] Thank you, Dale. You know that it’s always just joyful for me to connect with you.
And I’m really delighted about being engaged in this early launch of this new product and this new opportunity to hear the voices of people across the country that matter.
So thanks for asking me to be here today.
So let’s go ahead and jump into one of those moments in your life. In the RX for Success podcast, during your path into medicine story that Randy was walking you through, you shared that you had reached a point in your career when you had become.

[2:03] You know, a shell of yourself after several years of working too many hours and too many days, said that you had burned out. You know, a lot of us don’t realize that we’re burnt out until a trusted colleague points something out to us that forces us to reflect, you know, an inflection point,
if you will. This happened for you. I just wonder if you could kind of flesh out the picture of,
What was life like for you at that time?
Dr. Lisa Larson So life for me at that time really was hallmarked, I think, by this fierce sense of urgency that was nonstop. I felt urgent when I went to bed. I felt urgent when I got up in the morning,
and that urgency persisted all through the day. I kind of called it living in low growl,
like I was just growling all of the time. And there was a part of me that was afraid to even think about slowing down because I wasn’t sure what would happen. So it was fierce, it was urgent.

[3:03] And I was a bully. And I’m just curious, did you experience yourself as a bully? You certainly experienced that urgency. Yeah, so I’m not sure because I was really pretty crafty at rationalizing
and excusing and allowing dispensation for my behavior based on what I thought was a real noble,
commitment. So there wasn’t anybody working harder, no one that worked as long hours, no one who was more committed, you know, that old story about I’m the only one. And I really,
someplace in my thinking, believed that that gave me a free pass to have this sort of bullying, burned out, rude behavior. And in truth, the people around me were so good to me,
even in the face of that behavior, that it was just kind of normalized in the ICU, that Dr.

[3:57] Rotterman would come in and everybody stand against the walls and do what she asks. So I’m going to go back to that sort of the past that you had was because there’s this noble cause that you’re serving. Is that kind of where your thinking was?
Yeah, my thinking was that there was this noble cause that I was serving. And then when that was coupled with having emptied myself out, so that I didn’t really have any reserves that would
support me in really being centered and really being engaged with that normal purpose, it just doesn’t make sense at that point. That purpose is over in one part of the sky and I’m over on some,
part of a hill and I talk about the connection.

[4:44] I convinced myself that that connection was still there and viable. But in truth, if I had been attached to that noble purpose in a way that was meaningful, I’m not sure I would have gone astray in the way that I did.
Ben Shepard There’s a little bit of a feel of kind of this automatic behavior, automaton, just kind of continuing to go through the motions.

[5:07] Does that describe it? Dr. Linda L. Johnson Yeah, I remember thinking that, And this is kind of a scary thought, but I remember thinking, I can’t pay too much attention to what
my own experience is. I don’t know if I could take it. Like, I don’t know if I could really connect with how tired my body is. I don’t know if I could really connect with how weary my heart is.

[5:30] I don’t know if I could connect with how separated I feel from the people who love me. If I pause for a moment to acknowledge that I thought I would just crumble.
That’s a picture of this individual who is, you know, kind of this organism is bouncing around the hospital, you know, around other organisms. And you gave us a feel for what
was going on in your mind and how you had to kind of continue to behave. And then there was this particularly long day in the intensive care unit. So if you will, let’s go ahead,
and play that clip.

[6:12] I think in part with a sense that there was a proving that needed to unfold.
And I kind of surrendered my life and I kind of got confused between with the distinction between sacrifice and service. And so ultimately in truth, I hit the wall.

[6:32] I burned out, I had used up all of my physical emotional and spiritual resources and I became kind of a shell of the person that had walked through the doors of that medical school some years before,
with you know clear eyes and a bright heart and and that person got lost along the way and it actually took a nurse in the critical care unit to help
me see that so we worked all day long and a patient who was had to be coded off and on all during the day and ultimately, finally, gracefully at the end of this day,
he was stable and we sat down to chart.
I said to her, gosh, I don’t think we’ve ever talked this much before and she swung her little stool around and looked me square in the eye and she said, that’s because you scare the hell out of everybody. All right.

[7:31] So Carla, I just was curious, you know, kind of from that moment, can you say some more about what your response, your reaction was when that nurse said that to you?

[7:44] Well, I think I talked a little bit about this in my interview with Dr. Cook. But but my initial response was exactly what you would expect.
Right. I could feel this old turning inside of me. I could feel things rising up.
I had arguments. I was really willing to argue with her. I was even willing to blame Shift and attack her. And then something different happened. And I wish that I could tell you
exactly what that was. I kind of call it grace, because there was a moment when suddenly all of that old pattern, that old emerging hostility just dissipated. And I realized in that moment.

[8:35] That that was true, that it was true. And at the same time, Dale, I recognized that she was not attacking me, that she was helping me see what it was like to be on the other side of me.

[8:50] Me. Have you ever had a moment in your life that altered your future? To see that we have this bottleneck with residency that so many people don’t get that chance to get that so needed training.
Have you ever wondered why you chose the direction you went? When I had left my prior position, I didn’t plan on going back to practicing medicine. Coming this month, it’s Life Changing Moments, hosted by Dr. Dale Waxman.
The parts of your job that are professionally fulfilling. Can you say a little bit more about that?
In this companion show to Prescription for Success, we will explore those decision points with our former guests and provide you with the wisdom and insight to make those choices for yourself.
What can I do for the country other than the psychosocial assistance? Getting the new show is easy.
If you are already subscribed to Rx for Success, you’ll get it automatically.
But if you are not subscribed, now is a great time to do so. You can find the RX for Success podcast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

[9:55] Music.

[10:03] I’m Rhonda Crowe, founder and CEO for MD Coaches. Here on RX for Success, we interview a lot of great medical professionals on how they grew their careers, how they overcame challenges.

[10:15] And how they handle day-to-day work. I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information.

[10:21] But if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem, management or administration challenge, or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out, like maybe you chose the wrong career, Well, then there’s a faster way to get the help you need.
No, it’s not counseling. It’s coaching.
Rx for Success is produced by MD Coaches, a team of physicians who have been where you are.
I know you’re used to going it alone, but you don’t have to. Get the support you need today. Visit us at to schedule your,
complimentary consultation. Again, that’s because you’re not in this alone.

[11:05] Dr. Reagan B. C. C. We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but right now I want to tell you a little bit about Physician Outlook. If you haven’t discovered this remarkable
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[11:33] It’s available online and in print. It’s really unique among physician lifestyle magazines. And like the Prescription for Success podcast, Physician Outlook amplifies the voice of any physician who has something to say. It also engages patients who still believe in physician-led,
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[12:08] And now let’s get back to today’s interview. And did all that happen in soon after that confrontation or that conversation? Oh, it happened while our knees were still touching.
Wow, wow. Facing each other in the chair. I mean, it happened so swiftly and it took me by surprise.
And there was such a sweet humbleness to that experience that also felt like relief.
It was like I no longer had to hold my armor up.
I no longer had to pretend. I no longer had to protect myself from something invisible that I couldn’t see. And I no longer had to be on the attack.
Wow. of insight in a very, very short amount of time.

[13:01] Yeah. I mean, it was just immediate. Yeah.
Yeah. So it was a gift. And what came next for you? Well, on that day, I just kind of completed the day feeling sort of startled, right?

[13:19] But softened also. And then I think, as time went by, I really began this what I consider to be a a really courageous journey of, I don’t know, inspecting myself,
like really getting to know what had happened to me in the several years since I’d actually been connected with me and taking a good look at how I had evolved during that period of time,
inquiring about, is this the direction that I really wanted to be going? So I did a lot of looking around to see if there was something outside of what I knew and only thing I knew was
medicine and my kids. So was there something outside of that that could help me? And that sort of inspection and then looking for something outside of you that could help you, what did you
arrive on? I did a master’s program in spiritual psychology that was really the my initial foray,
into really becoming my own best companion.
And how did you find that?

[14:23] I went on a cruise, as people do, you know, when you’re lost and don’t know what to do. I went on a cruise that was called the Inner Voyage, And there were all kinds of folks on this inner voyage. It was sort of my first…
Toe in the water kind of experience with people who were really doing self-reflection and were really willing to do a deeper inquiry into not only the generalized meaning of life, but the,
meaning of their lives, right? So it was one of my first opportunities to really get a taste of that.

[14:55] And on that cruise, there was a woman who had a master’s degree in spiritual psychology. So she suggested that I go to this school and I did and I spent my first six months there as a skeptic sitting in the back of the room, sort of rolling my eyes and and,
still I kept going back and I kept going back at a time when you know I was really, really busy.
So I would fly on Friday nights to get there just in time for a seven o’clock class to I go to class till 11, I go from nine to nine on Saturdays and nine to six on Sundays and fly back Sunday night and be at the hospital by seven on Monday morning.
So there’s a couple of questions I have with that. Can I go back? I wanna come back to the master’s program, but before we do that, the Inner Voyages cruise.
Yeah. What made you decide to do that? I had discovered a poet named David White at a conference in Oregon, and I didn’t know who he was.

[16:03] But he had this little workshop called how to find work that nurtures your soul.
And that was at a point when I was still convinced that the work was what the problem was, that I was fine, and that if I just found a different kind of work that I would be okay.
So I went to this workshop and there was an advertisement for this cruise.
And I have historically been a little impulsive about, I call it intuitive, my family calls it impulsive, and we just agree that we know what we’re talking about.

[16:34] When we refer to that. And I just decided on the spot to go on that cruise and signed up there. To go do that.
Pete There’s this, you’re on this inner journey, both through poetry, but then the poetry kind of led you to being more open to something that sounded like an inner voyage at a time when
you’re searching and you’re looking. And so, then we bring you up to the Master’s program in spiritual psychology. And my question about that is, you said you were skeptical for those first six months and you said you kept going back. So why? Why did you keep going back?
Dr. Julia S. McNeese Well, I think that there was this deep space inside of us.

[17:19] I think we all have a deep inner innate wisdom that wants us to thrive, that wants us to step forward in a world with more joy and more connection and more purpose and more meaning,
that does not want us to sacrifice our lives for reasons that really aren’t clear.
So I believe that that aspect of myself was really instrumental in making that decision to get on that airplane every, you know, one Friday a month and go do that work.
And I also believe that there was something just valuable about being still for a couple of days, no matter what was going on around me. And so it provided me cover to just sit in a chair for a
couple of days. So nothing else.
And that was the excuse that I could use to justify.

[18:22] Continuing to go back. I gotcha. And then there’s this, there’s this piece that you are at least aware of now that there’s a, an inner drive, there’s an inner spirit, if you will, that,
that pushes you into a direction of health and healing and wholeness. And you were trusting that on some level. Yeah. Yeah. You know, you were in that sort of not easy place at that sort of moment
when we had this day in the ICU when a trusted colleague was very assertive and said,
here’s how you come across. And it led you into these areas of self-exploration.
And then, you know, I know you now and I know that there’s that’s not the that’s not the carlet that I know. So what else? What are some of the other pieces that have allowed you to emerge as wholly yourself.
I think probably the first piece of work that began the liberation from that way of being and that way of experiencing things,
was just noticing how harsh I was with myself.

[19:33] And how over time that harshness had been what I carried into the world, what I carried into the nurses’ station, what I carried to the bedside of patients, what I carried home to my family.
And the irony is that I still loved my work and I loved all of those people, but my presence was so harsh.
And whatever people around me experienced undeservedly when I showed up that way, I assure you, Dale, that my inner experience was much more harsh.
That’s sort of our emotional basement, right?

[20:16] It’s sort of the bottom floor of any place that we want to be operating from. We just aren’t going to do our best work.
We aren’t going to make the best choices.
We aren’t going to be on offer in our relationships in a way that is loving and conscious. That’s the survival mode, that emotional basement.
And so the first order of business is to even recognize that that’s where I was living,
that that’s kind of where I was operating from, to sort of forgive myself for putting myself in that bottom basement container,
and allowing myself to slowly start to rise.

[20:59] You raise a very good point, which is the work that you’re called to do, you’re passionate about, And the way that you were in that work, you learned, I’m not so passionate about that and that’s injuring.
And that’s not just injuring others around me, that’s injuring me.
And so I’m curious, did you, with this, some of that self-discovery and some of that letting go of that old self, were you back working,
about as much as you had before in the same way that you worked before, just with a different sort of Carla there showing up?
Yeah, it took a while. I mean, it took a while for that to happen. And it took some sleep. So I did, I created some different arrangements so that I could get a little more time off.
You know, my partner at that time was, he would say to me, just quit. And then I would yell at him about he didn’t understand and he was minimizing my experience and he was such a bad guy. And then one night I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought,
I could quit.
And I have to tell you, Dale, I didn’t quit.
But that new understanding that I could changed everything for me. Because I went to work with a new context at play, right?
I went to work because I chose to go to work.

[22:19] Yeah. The thing before, how would you describe that sort of feeling of there is no choice here? Yeah, I actually had no capacity to understand that there was choice.
Yeah. I was a single mom. I had two kids. I didn’t start medical school till I was 30. I put all my eggs in this basket. I gave it everything I had. There was nothing that I could see except more of that going forward. Yeah. I really appreciate that story,
Carl. I think a lot of our listeners will be able to identify with that. And then there is this this sense of being trapped in that and this challenge of getting to that place where you see that there really is some choices here.
And I think, you know, you did some really interesting things to move through that through your own self-exploration, as you’ve described.
And of course, you know, coaching would be one of the things that could be helpful for people who are going through something like this as well. I’ve certainly seen that with coaching clients before.
I just want to ask a couple other questions before we finish up. And one is, you mentioned some others around you.
There is this inner journey, but I just wonder, was there anybody around you who was particularly helpful to you during this time?

[23:43] Hmm. Well, certainly everyone at the University of Santa Monica, because that program draws you close to one another very swiftly and very intimately.
And my family, of course, right? I mean, I had my family, I had sort of a devoted office manager, but what I began to really appreciate was how cared for and supported I had been all along,
which was really interesting to notice because any.

[24:16] Adversarial nonsense that I thought was the truth was, was actually a story in my, it was my story. That really was my story. So I began to see far more clearly how cared for I’d been all along.
And I have to say that the nursing staff and that ICU, which is of course the source of my reckoning, if you will, you know, were amazing advocates for me during that time. And they were actually the
people who gave me the most feedback about how they could see some kind of subtle transformative,
process unfolding. You know, that is interesting, because I love that word transformative. I’m not always sure what that means for everyone. But for me, that’s a change for the better, right? So it
will suffice for our conversation today. And what I noticed is that, that as I continued to expand that changing for the better continued to expand, my ego kind of got let off the hook. And it just
didn’t need as much attention. It didn’t need to be right. It didn’t need to be first. It didn’t need. I’m not saying it went on vacation, but, but I really did find that given that more expanded.

[25:38] Space that my ego just didn’t have to work so hard every single day. And that was also a relief.
That’s it. It’s just beautiful. There’s this, there’s that saying that, you know, I just saw my situation with new eyes.

[25:53] You know, through a different lens and what a beautiful transformation, whatever that means, that you allowed yourself and not just allowed yourself but invested in and what you’re now
giving to others as a result of that. So just as you look back on that time, and there’s been a lot of things that you’ve shared with us already that you’ve learned, is there anything, you know,
know, if you had to crystallize this in some lessons for our listeners who may be experiencing what you were experiencing back then, what lesson did you derive from this that you want to impart to our listeners? What lesson or lessons?
My first lesson was to acknowledge my own humanity and to sort of let myself off the hook from any notion that I had to be exceptional in order to do exceptional things.

[26:51] That clear distinction that we rise out of ordinariness to place exceptional service into the world. But we, we ourselves, we’re human, we’re ordinary, we have the same longings,
the same lovings, the same worries, the same failings as everyone else.

[27:17] We have the same successes as anyone else and everyone else, just measured in a different arena of work. So that was the first thing is that I abandoned any notion of myself as extraordinary,
and really vowed to live in the ordinary world with abundant appreciation for that.
So that’s one thing. The second really has to do with connection, with social connectedness, and with really authentic social connection, where we work with one another. And that whole.

[27:55] Deep understanding that, you know, we’re really, we are really gifted as a collection of professionals, because we have a built-in community. We have a built-in community with lots and lots of
shared values and shared commitments. We have a lot in common. And not just in terms of the work that we do, but what called us to that work in the first place.
So, we have connections beyond anything that might otherwise be available to us.
And social connection is the strongest force in helping shore us up against things like burnout, depletion, isolation.
So I learned to stay connected. And I learned that the more lonely I felt, the more that was my indicator to reach out rather than withdraw. So those are two things.

[28:49] Those are wonderful, wonderful learnings and lessons for all of us. I think you said it the best.
I don’t think I can summarize it any better than what you just said. And so I really, really, really appreciate your willingness to be here with us today.
Dr. Carla Roedering, thank you so much for joining us today and imparting your experience.
It’s vulnerable to share a story like you shared and appreciate that vulnerability that allows others to learn from your experience and the beautiful lessons that you shared with us at the end. So thank you so much.
Thank you, Dale, for having me today. Thank you for tuning into Life Changing Moments. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to rate us five stars and leave a review. Doing so helps our podcast reach more listeners.
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