Alumni Profile: Tammie (Tamara) Chang, MD '99

Interview by Ken DuBois, Editor

The pediatric hematologist/oncologist, author, and women’s leadership coach on the risks of burnout in the healthcare community and the importance of advocating for physician self-care

In your writings and presentations, you are open about a difficult time in your life and career when you experienced burnout, depression, and suicidal ideation. Why has it been important to you to share your experience?
I very much believe in courageous and humble leadership. It’s so important to me to model and to share my vulnerable story because it gives others the permission to be open about their experiences, and to know they’re not alone. If I can help one fellow physician, then this is worth it. If I can help inspire others to begin to share their own stories, this is how we create real change, and a society and medical culture where we can eventually remove the stigma of mental illness.

We’re at a physician burnout crisis in healthcare now in the United States. Physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any profession. One in five physicians has considered committing suicide, and that’s more than two and a half times the rate of suicide in the general population. Many physicians worry they will lose their medical license if they share that they’ve struggled with mental illness, and worry they will lose their credibility as a physician. This fear is deeply ingrained in us during our training. If I can model courage, vulnerability, and honesty for others—as a physician, a colleague, and a leader—a shift begins to happen. I’m very open and public about my own personal struggles, because I want to give others the permission to acknowledge and to share their own.

We have so much work to do if we want to have a bright future in healthcare and medicine for all of us. This drives me now in everything I do. And I’m even more deeply passionate about empowering and supporting women physicians because women are disproportionately affected.  We have significantly higher rates of suicide, burnout, and emotional exhaustion than physicians who are men. 

Why did you choose to take on the role of Medical Director of Provider Wellness in addition to your work as a pediatric hematologist and oncologist?
I took on this role because it is deeply aligned with my Why. My deepest purpose in life is to be part of changing the culture of medicine to make it a better, kinder, more compassionate one for all of us in healthcare caring for our communities. By creating a gentler and more joyful culture of medicine, one where we also work to care for the healers, we ultimately create a healthier and brighter future for our patients and communities.

There’s a lot of data showing that when you’ve got a burned-out physician, which is more than 70 percent of physicians now, you’re at a six times higher risk of experiencing a medical error. At the bottom line this is about safety, providing the best possible medical care, and creating the most nurturing environment to help and heal us all.

You and a friend from medical school launched Pink Coat, MD to make self-care resources available to women physicians everywhere. What was the impetus for this platform?
Luisa and I have been close friends since freshman year orientation at Brown, so we have been friends for over 22 years. She and I had lost touch after completing our fellowship training, Luisa in adult endocrinology, and me in pediatric hematology/oncology. By chance we reconnected in 2019 when she was in Seattle for a conference. I shared my personal severe burnout and suicidal story. And then she shared how she had also hit rock bottom. We realized that we were not alone. If we had struggled so deeply, others likely were struggling too. And that’s when we started to reach out and check-in with our long-time medical school, residency, and fellowship friends and discovered that many were also struggling. 

But no one shares this openly. We have a deeply ingrained culture of silence in medicine. This is why we launched Pink Coat, MD, to create a safe, supportive space for women physicians to come together, to share their stories, and to support each other. We care deeply about our profession, and about empowering women physicians to become their best selves, and to remain in their medical careers. Forty percent of women physicians either go part-time or quit medicine altogether within six years of completing residency training. We must do something to change the career trajectory of women in medicine today. We know that when women are caring for our patients, and leading our organizations and communities, that our world is a kinder, healthier, and more compassionate one.

I’m also very involved with the American Medical Women’s Association, and I mentor many medical and pre-medical students. I am driven to create not only a better and kinder culture of medicine for us now, but even more so for our next generation. I want to help us create a kinder and more compassionate world for our children, grandchildren and beyond—as those who have come before us have done for us.

Are there elements of your Catlin Gabel experience that are reflected in your advocacy work?
At the core of the Catlin philosophy and ethos is a commitment to service, and to speak up for those who can’t for themselves. To me, this is the greatest gift of the precious 12 years I spent at Catlin: a deep and lifelong devotion to serving others, with courage, integrity, vulnerability, and humility.

  • Medical Director of Provider Wellness and Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist for MultiCare Health System, Tacoma, WA
  • Co-founder (with Dr. Luisa Duran) of Pink Coat, MD digital platform for women physicians
  • Founder of Tammie Chang, MD, leadership coaching and consulting for women physicians
  • Author of Boundaries for Woman Physicians: Love Your Life and Career in Medicine (2022)
  • Author (with Dr. Luisa Duran) of How to Thrive as a Woman Physician (2021)
  • Bachelors (2003) and Medical degree (Program in Liberal Medical Education), Brown University, 2007
  • Combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester
  • Fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis
  • Director of the American Medical Women’s Association’s Leadership Development Program for women physician attendings, ELEVATE
  • Certified professional leadership coach