Physician who overcame job burnout pays it forward to encourage medical students to pursue their passions in health care
By Karen Doss Bowman
Photography by Joy Cannis
Kara J. Pepper, M.D. ’05
For Kara J. Pepper, M.D. ’05, the drive to perform at the highest levels began early in life. A former professional ballet dancer, Dr. Pepper’s drive for perfection and work ethic eventually upended her work-life balance, and she came close to leaving medicine.
“Ballet dancers and doctors are essentially the same people,” Dr. Pepper wrote in a recent blog. “Long before I entered medicine, ballet taught me the skills that made me successful in my clinical practice.… I strived for excellence and was rewarded for these efforts.”
Less than a decade into her career as a primary care internist with Laureate Medical Group in Atlanta, burnout caught up with her. During a sabbatical, Dr. Pepper “prioritized myself as my most important patient,” pursuing therapy and life coaching. The experience, she said, was transformative.
“I found a way to rebuild my life that was meaningful and sustainable,” said Dr. Pepper. She returned to her practice, which has a special focus on eating disorders — an area of personal interest because her ballet career ended due to eating disorder-related injuries. She also earned life coach certification and now supports other physicians through individual and group coaching to deal with issues including burnout, perfectionism, impostor syndrome and career transition.
Despite the career burnout she experienced, Dr. Pepper said her time at the Miller School was supportive and encouraging.
“These were among the most fun years of my life,” said Dr. Pepper, who was recognized last year as one of Atlanta’s Top Doctors. “The culture was supportive, safe, and really just allowed us to be human. It was a place where I could grow and try things and figure out who I was as a physician.”
Grateful for the scholarship that helped fund her education, Dr. Pepper gives annually at the leadership level. She primarily donates to the John K. Robinson Fund, which supports scholarships and travel grants.
“Many medical students feel compelled to choose one career path over another based on the income they can earn and their ability to pay back their loans,” said Dr. Pepper. “If scholarship funding allows students to have more freedom of choice, that is everything. We desperately need passionate, encouraged, empathetic doctors in this world. That’s why I pay it forward.”
To donate to the John K. Robinson Fund, visit miami.edu/johnkrobinson