Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Empowering Women Physicians 2023 Bora Bora Retreat Recap and Reflections

66 Women Physicians in Bora Bora!!!!

As I begin writing this, I am currently 30,000 feet in the air and on my way back home to Miami from a wonderful week in beautiful Bora Bora. I’m actually about to land soon and can barely keep my eyes open as I’ve been traveling since yesterday, but I wanted to get this started so that I can finish and hopefully post tomorrow. But first let me tell you why I was in Bora Bora and how it all came to be:

Back in September, I shared my story in the Empowering Women Physicians group (click HERE to join the Facebook  group), founded by Dr. Sunny Smith in an attempt to win a spot at their annual retreat held at The Four Seasons Bora Bora Resort. I figured I didn’t have a chance in hell at winning, but I shared anyway because 1) I’m always happy to share my story with hopes that it uplifts/inspires others. And 2) the retreat was occurring on the same dates as my birthday PTO request, so I felt like it was a sign to try. For those who don’t know, in my residency program we get a total of 20 vacation days for the year, and we’re only allowed to take five business days off per month, weekends not included. I had originally scheduled to take off the end of January and the first week of February, and the retreat dates fell perfectly in between. I was beyond floored (and to be honest, I still am) when I found out I was the winner of the resident award, which included not only a stay in a gorgeous overwater bungalow at The Four Seasons, but also food, drinks and all group activities in addition to CME credits and a month of coaching! All I had to do was pay for my flight (which was a huge investment within itself on a residency budget) and they took care of all the rest. It truly feels like the universe was conspiring for me to go on this trip because even if I hadn’t used vacation days, I could have used my CME credit which I have not used yet. Winning this trip was truly a miracle and a blessing. Okay, so now that you’re all caught up, here’s how the week went:

The incredible Dr. Sunny Smith!!!! 


My travel started on a Sunday and I braced myself for what would be the longest time I have ever traveled in my life. I believe the total travel time was 36 hours from start to finish. And on top of the time, I had multiple layovers (Atlanta, Los Angeles, Papeete) before I would finally arrive in Bora Bora. My original flight was changed by the airline a couple of months prior, so I specifically added the Atlanta layover so that I could have lunch with one of my dearest friends from medical school, but she absolutely surprised me with the best birthday gift ever! When I arrived at the airport, she greeted me with tulips (my favorite), a balloon, drinks, and a card. She then had me pick from two pieces of paper with the words written on them hidden from me. I thought it was weird (and had no idea that this is a current thing on social media), but she’s fun, so I decided to go with the flow. The first paper I selected read “limo”, and I was like what?!, but then she had me follow her back into the airport to find a man waiting with a sign with my name on it, and we walked out to find a beautiful limo driving up to me! Then she had me select another paper, and this one had the words Herve Leger written on it. For those who don’t know, this is one of my favorite designers. And after I selected the paper, she pulled out one of the most gorgeous dresses out of her bag. I was completely floored! Before coming, she told me to wear black with heels, so I just assumed we were going to an all black brunch somewhere in Atlanta. I literally changed from blue jeans to black jeans in the airport before walking out to meet her, so she definitely got me good with that one. I brought black boots, but surprisingly they actually fit well with the dress. Now at this point I’m thinking it can’t possibly get any better than this. But then she has me select another piece of paper and this one reads “food”. And if you know me, you know I love food, so I was so happy! The limo then takes us to Two Urban Licks, which is a super great restaurant in Atlanta, and we ate yummy food and had a blast. After this we walked the Atlanta Beltline, which surprisingly, despite all the years I lived in the area, I had never walked. Following this, we took a trip to Lenox mall where we walked around, got some yummy cupcakes by CamiCakes, a Black-owned company, and just really spent the time bonding and talking with each other. It was seriously one of the best days of my life and one of the highlights of my trip. Even better than Bora Bora itself. Just thinking about it makes me emotional because I am truly blessed to have such amazing friends. When she dropped me back off at the airport, I felt nothing but joy and love in my heart, and it made the rest of my trip smoother. You can watch the reel below to see how truly great it was :)

But back to the trip. My second flight was from Atlanta to Los Angeles, and a very interesting thing happened: During the middle of my flight, the flight attendants called overhead asking for medical volunteers to come up to the front. I went up to the front where I met two other female physicians, both in orthopedics (one of whom who was going to the same retreat in Bora Bora), and a patient in distress who we all helped together. Luckily, the patient ended up okay and we didn’t have to land the plane, but it was actually my first time having and responding to an inflight emergency (luckily no one could tell). I was happy to not have to do it alone. Once we arrived to Los Angeles, we found other physicians going on the same retreat and we all hung out and got to know each other in the lounge before boarding our next flight to Tahiti. Fortunately, that was a smooth flight without issues.

Meeting some of the docs for the first time in Los Angeles


When we arrived in Tahiti the next day, they were playing music in the airport and it was a great experience. I wasn’t in Tahiti long though, because when I went to check my bag, the person at the ticket counter asked if I wanted to get on the flight that was currently boarding instead of waiting three hours. I looked at her with disbelief and asked if that would be pushing it since the plane was literally leaving in 10 minutes, but she said it wouldn’t be a problem. As I was going through security they were calling my name, but I made it on the flight with the most beautiful view and safely into Bora Bora.

My view from the plane

When we arrived in to Bora Bora, we were greeted with a fresh flower leis. Our luggage was taken and we were escorted by boat to our hotel. The ride to the hotel was absolutely scenic and beautiful, and it was even cooler getting to know some of the ladies I would be spending the week with. Once we arrived to the resort, they took us to a villa to check in and to relax while we awaited our rooms, since we arrived at around 7am that morning. The villa had a beautiful pool overlooking the mountains. And it was really nice just dipping my feet in, eating food and bonding with other women. This is also where we received our roommate assignments (because let’s face it, the Four Seasons isn’t cheap), and I was lucky enough to find out my roommate was someone who I had participated in a virtual small group setting with earlier in the month. Once in my room, I couldn’t help but try out the gorgeous blue cool water. I took a dip in the water and then I joined the main group in the activity section of the resort for a cultural experience that involved making flower crowns, learning the history of coconuts, and taking dance lessons. Later that evening, we had a beautiful Tahitian dinner that included absolutely delicious food. I don’t actually like to eat any raw seafood, but being that I was in a different country, I did try it, and I was floored at how delicious the raw swordfish, tuna and other fish was. It didn’t even taste like fish! Super fresh! To top it all off, there was even a magnificent fire show with music and dancing and a group picture afterwards. It was a phenomenal first night. And I’m still surprised that I was able to stay awake, but I was absolutely knocked out by the time I made it back to my room later that evening.

Polynesian Dinner Night!


The next day was Tuesday, January 31st which also happened to be my 36th birthday! I still can’t believe that I literally woke up in paradise on my birthday. The morning started with a nice breakfast followed by our first group session from 8am-12pm. This first session started off with us writing three things that we were most grateful for that day. We then put it in a cup and passed the the cup to a different table where each person selected one piece of paper and read it. They not only read the paper, but they discussed the feelings that reading it invoked in them. This actually took the entire 4 hours, but it was such a beautiful display of gratitude, and I really loved it. It was also during this session where I was surprised with a beautiful birthday card signed by all the ladies in the group. It made me feel so special and loved. Following the group session, I had lunch with a few of the women and then I spent a few hours roaming around the resort where I found a cute little lagoon with fish and coral reef. Later, I walked to the pool, where I literally spent hours in the water hanging out and talking before I walked over to dinner and joined another group of women. It was such a beautiful and relaxed way to spend my birthday, and later on at night when I came to my room I was even more smiles when I found a beautiful dessert and birthday laid out hotel staff in the middle of the room. I later found out that this was gifted to me by one of the women I met on the plane who happened to be part of the travel agency making this retreat happen. Super sweet! I ended my birthday with a bubble bath and whiskey, which is what I love to do on vacation. It was absolutely perfect.

Happy 36th Birthday to ME!


The next day was exciting as it was our shark, stingray and fish snorkel day! We started off with breakfast and a short morning group session and then we were off on the boats to submerge ourselves in the crystal clear blue water. I had never snorkeled before, and to be honest, I’m not even really a swimmer, but I put on my snorkel vest with a lifesaver, and I snorkeled for the first time ever! I struggled with a foggy mask at first, but one of the women came over and switched masks so I could see. Then the driver of the boat threw a piece of fruit in my hand and it was so cool having all the fish come up to me and eat out of my hand. I even hugged a Stingray!!!! How awesome is that?! We finished the excursion by eating lunch in the ocean with sharks and stingrays swimming around us, and I even got to feed fish from my hand. It was such an unforgettable experience. Later that evening, I attended a quick Champagne and Pearls experience at the resort, but I was pretty tired, so I ended the day with room service in my room. Food is extremely expensive in Bora Bora, so I am so grateful for the room credit that this retreat provided, because just getting a burger, salad, and dessert was over $100. If I had to do this on my own, I would probably have brought ramen and just used water from my my coffee pot for the week.

Hugging a stingray!


Thursday was another amazing full group morning session where we talked about our wildest dreams and things that we would start and stop doing to accomplish our goals. We ended the morning with breakout sessions with our small groups. My small group had a nice lunch and we finished off the discussion for a couple of hours. For the afternoon, I decided to treat myself to a spa day. I had originally tried to book a massage on my birthday, but I went too late and everything was booked, so I was excited that I would be getting a massage on this day. I had the most amazing deep tissue massage. Followed by a dip in the gorgeous hot tub outback with the most beautiful scenery. Following this, we all headed to the villa, where there were dancing lessons given by my fellow Tahitian physician colleague, drinks, music, and a good time. It was also during this time where I took a huge leap of faith and jumped into the ocean from the villa. I had never done anything like that before, and I was scared out of my mind, but Dr Smith’s husband held my hand and I survived. It was an experience I will keep with me for a lifetime, and a reminder of all the positive experiences that occur when taking a leap of faith.

Relaxing in the spa hot tub


Friday was our big day as it was National Women Physicians Day. This day was created to honor the path that female doctors have paved since 1849. We started off the morning in a large group session, but then we quickly broke into our small groups. My small group found a large canopy next to the pool and we all discussed our dreams, things that were holding us back, and the solutions and ways to make it work. Following this, all 60+ of us representing so many different specialties gathered together for a group picture. Even cooler, the photographer took individual headshots of us that will be able to use for branding or however we like. It was such a beautiful gift. Following this, we had a bit of downtime in the afternoon, so I recorded a very choppy YouTube video as I was walking back to my room that looks choppy, but I may go ahead and post it anyway and just direct to this blog post which ties up everything I really want to say anyway. Then I got ready for our 5pm sunset cruise. The cruise was so relaxing and beautiful. It was also a great way to connect, take pictures with everyone and celebrate our last night together. But it didn’t end there. Following the sunset cruise, we made it back to resort and headed to the beach, where there were chairs waiting for us and a firework show to commemorate National Women Physicians day. Such a fabulous way to end our last night together!

Sunset Cruise


Saturday was officially our last day and it was so sad to leave paradise. We started off the morning with our final group session, and after we ended around 12pm, we all headed to a villa that was made available for us to lounge, swim, and relax in while we awaited our boats to take us to the airport. This villa was absolutely huge and amazing. So much so that I recorded a video for it that I will upload to my YouTube channel because it was just mind-blowing how beautiful it was. At around 3:30pm, the boat came to pick me up since my flight was leaving around 5:00 PM. They greeted us with beautiful shell necklaces while boarding, and as we were leaving the resort, it started to rain. We had beautiful weather the whole time there, but the rain starting when we left felt like a sign that the island was sad we were leaving. Fortunately, there were no inflight emergencies on either of my flights back home, so it was pretty smooth.

Villa Life


I arrived back home to Miami Sunday evening and I was so tired. But when I opened the door I was greeted with a cake and tulips from my awesome guy that made me smile. I attempted to stay up to at least 11pm that night and then I was out for the count. It’s so nice being back home, but I truly do miss paradise.

Birthday cake and tulips :)


It is now Tuesday and I feel like I finally have had a little downtime to reflect on my experience, but I am still mind blown over everything that happened last week. I learned so much in the realm of dealing with personal situations, business, life, and just navigating the world as a woman physician. The experience I had was truly priceless. My takeaways from this trip would take up an entire post, and I’ve already written way too much, so I’ll just leave you with five random nuggets that I took away:

1) If you don’t take the time to take care of yourself now, you’ll only end up hurting yourself in the long run

During one of the large group sessions, I shared how I grappled with the thought of winning a trip to Bora Bora when there were so many phenomenal female physicians who shared their stories and who I felt deserved it more than me because they had experienced more burnout and had been practicing way longer than myself. After this session, one of the women came up to me and told me how she had been dealing with physician burnout for over a decade, and she wishes that she had opportunities like this as a resident so that she would have never gotten to that point. I never thought about how important it is to start physician wellness early, because residency and life tend to beat you down and get you to a place where you think that the burnout is normal, but it’s really not right. This experience was a blatant reminder to take care of myself. Because if I don’t take care of myself, how can I truly take care of my patients?

2) Your story truly is not for you and it is important to share it

Those of you reading this know that I’ve never been afraid to share my story, but attending this retreat showed me how very important it is to share our stories and how connected we all truly are to each other. There was so much I could relate to from the other women there, whether it was talking about abuse, burnout, divorce, parenting, job changes, etc., and I realized that we are all connected by so muchI met women there who I share mutual friends with. I met women there who had gone through the same residency match struggles as myself, but had never shared it until that point. I met a woman who literally went to my same medical school and graduated only 3 years before me, and I met women there who were struggling with something that those of us had already gone through could provide advice for. It’s so important to share our stories because you never know who might need to hear it to keep their lives going.

3) Don’t be afraid to allow good things to happen to you. You are worthy and you do deserve it. Not everyone is out to get you.

I was pretty quiet about this trip since finding out that I won in September because, honestly, I was skeptical. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I don’t expect truly good things to happen to me. I always expect there to be a catch, or that someone will want something in return. This retreat showed me this is not the case. I was sure I was going to get a call saying that they made a mistake or that they accidentally forgot to include me in the booking prior to going. I was so scared because I just never expect truly good things to happen to me. I even continue to struggle with that in my current residency program that this is all too good to be true, and that it will be taken away from me somehow. But this retreat showed me that I am worthy of these things, and I should expect these things because I put in the work and good out into the world and I should expect that good to come right back. It also showed me that there are people out there who truly want to support me and who will push for me, but I do have to allow myself to be open to receiving that.

4) Life is short and the time to live is now.

Even with the demands of residency, it’s easy to get caught up and forget to live life. We get consumed with work, with motherhood, personal, and other business responsibilities that we forget to take the time and honor ourselves. What I took away from this retreat is that now is the time to create the life I want to live, and to find a way to make it work, despite any obstacles I may perceive to be in my way. 

5) You are not alone and there are people who truly care about you and will be there to help when you need it

When I was there, I listened to so many stories of physician suicide. And I remember one of the women sharing with me how when she was in residency, one of the residents actually committed suicide while in the hospital with the chief residents actually hearing the gun go off as they were banging on the door. Most people aren’t aware that that rate of physician suicide is high. Our hours are grueling. A lot of times we feel like there is no support. And, whether you’re a resident or an attending, sometimes it can feel very lonely. One of the most powerful things for me, during the retreat was one of the women taking me aside, giving me her phone number, and telling me that it doesn’t matter what time or day that it is, if there is any time within the next 15 years where I feel I’m in a dark place, to call her, and she will help me through it. That is so powerful to me. And there was another woman who even talked about her dream of buying a house in Bora Bora, so that she can sponsor a resident physician each year who may be struggling with mental health or other wellness issues, and sponsor them for an all expense paid getaway in an attempt to promote wellness and help prevent physician suicide. Just writing this chokes me up, not because I’ve ever been suicidal, but I remember being in a very dark place, especially during my intern year in Philadelphia where I felt like there was no one I could call on who could relate to me or who could help me, so to know that there are people who are actively trying to help is just truly incredible. I honestly have no words for how touching it really is. 

Smiles in Paradise

Wrapping Up

OK so I know I’ve taken way too much time on this post and written a novel, so I’m going to wrap it up. But, there are no words to describe how incredibly powerful and beautiful this experience was for me. We shared our stories in a safe place, bonded, laughed together, and cried together. And as the only resident physician in attendance, I truly feel like I gained a tribe of phenomenal female attending physicians who I will be able to lean on even in the roughest times while navigating my journey through residency and beyond. I am even more so thankful to Dr. Sunny Smith for creating an exceptional coaching program (Please click here to check it out) that is helping so many physicians and for giving me the gift of a lifetime. Oh, and lastly, we were even featured in the Tahitian news! You can check out that article HERE (open in Chrome and right click, there should be a Google tab that says translate page).

Featured in the Tahitian News!

If you’ve made it this far in my post, thank you so much for reading and I hope reading it brought you joy. I wish you all a wonderful week ahead and I look forward to updating you with more in the near future.



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