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Burnout leads Shoreline doctor to open first Black owned direct primary care clinic in Washington

A survey by Medscape found that two thirds of American doctors who responded were experiencing intense burnout.

SHORELINE, Wash. — Healthcare workers across the country are experiencing intense burnout and it's causing some to leave the medical field altogether.

After burning out at her former position at Swedish, Dr. Margaret Towolawi was inspired to open her own clinic.

Dr. Towolawi now runs two direct primary care practices out of her office in Shoreline. Her offices are the first black-owned direct primary care business in Washington state.

Nurture Well Center serves the primary care need of patients and Skin Stat MD is a skin based practice serving the needs of black and brown people with skin conditions.

Towolawi worked for nearly eight years as a primary care physician with Swedish. Then the pandemic hit.

"I really started to see the toll on not only myself but my patients," she said. "Everyone was coming in with some form of anxiety or depression."

Early into the pandemic one of Towolawi's patients at Swedish contracted COVID-19.

"I had no idea was I going to bring something home that could kill my family? Kill my kids? Kill my husband?" said Towolawi. "All of a sudden I would come home from work, whole routine," she said. "Change clothes, take off the shoes, take a shower and then you know go greet them and meet them." 

A survey by Medscape found that two thirds of American doctors who responded were experiencing intense burnout. A quarter of doctors who responded said they left the medical field because of it.

Towolawi said while she was on the frontlines at Swedish, she realized something she had never felt in her entire career.

"I started to find myself waking up, like okay, I love my patients, but I really don't want to go to work today," she said. "As doctors we are healers, we're always being there for our patients and we took that oath to do so, but at some point it's like, when do you stand up for yourself?"

Towolawi resigned in late August of 2020 after giving four and a half months notice, without a clear plan. She opened her office in Shoreline just one month ago.

Towolawi said she went from over 2,000 patients at Swedish and is hoping for a more personalized care model with no more than 200 patients at her Shoreline office.

"It is the answer to burn out in my opinion, when it comes to physician well-being,"Towolawi said. "Doing it in a way that feels fulfilling to my patients and me."