Writers promoting writers 

I’m so pleased to be included in Martha Reynolds’ monthlong celebration of Rhode Island authors on her blog, Martha Reynolds Writes. 

Check out the post here: http://marthareynoldswrites.com/2015/11/17/nov-17-meet-ri-author-becky-macdonnell-yilmaz/

Time Macho: I’m Part of the Problem

It was a concept intimately familiar to me long before anyone gave it a name. From my earliest days in college, I felt surrounded by people who packed their days with meetings, activities, sports practices or competitions; classes, study groups, and research; for whom every moment had been spoken for and each day didn’t so much end as spill over into the next. The standard was clear: to do any differently was to be lazy, unmotivated, and destined for failure.

During medical school, the feeling only intensified. Free time was a prize to vocally lust after but also a guilt-inciting purgatory to be avoided at all costs. After all, we could never learn all there was to know about medicine, so how could we ever stop trying?

When I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s description of “time macho” – the idea that “somehow you’re better and tougher and stronger if you work harder and longer”[1] – during my last year of school, it gave me a tangible practice toward which to direct my frustration and a paradigm away from which to direct my own behavior. Throughout my training, I tried to assign some priority to sleep and to the people and things outside of medicine that nourish my soul. And until recently I thought that I had done an adequate job of it, and of encouraging the same in my colleagues.

Last month a speaker at my hospital’s Grand Rounds presented data highlighting the importance of sleep – how many benefits it brings and how much physical and emotional damage a deficit of it can unleash. When she presented the recommendations for sleep durations according to age, she asked how many people in the audience had young children who were getting the appropriate amount of sleep. Less than half raised their hands. What about teenagers, she continued. Again, less than half.

What about all of you, she finally asked. How many people in the audience regularly slept for the recommended seven to nine hours each night?

Only a smattering of hands popped up across the auditorium. My own hand stayed down, despite the fact that I have been sleeping eight to nine hours per night over the past few months. I felt embarrassed, guilty for allowing myself such an extravagant amount of rest when colleagues all around me were working so hard. Never mind that I had entered my year as Chief Resident, with my work hours nearly halved and allowing much more time for rest, and that I was exhausted from preparing for the pediatrics boards while caring for my toddler son and navigating the first trimester of my second pregnancy. It still felt somehow shameful to be a physician getting so much sleep.

Most of the day passed before I realized that my reaction – my embarrassment, my instinctive need to offer justification for taking care of my own basic needs – only contribute to and perpetuate the culture of time macho that pervades medicine and so much of our society. The speaker could just as easily have asked how many of us value ourselves, our health, our well-being? And while that might have garnered a few more raised hands, it would by no means have been met with universal commitment, even in a room full of healthcare providers.

As with any effort toward culture change, the first steps involve shifts in the beliefs and behavior of individuals. So this is me urging myself and my colleagues to stop judging ourselves based on how many hours we’ve worked, the depth of our exhaustion, how thoroughly we’ve driven ourselves into the ground. To direct at least a little bit of care that we provide toward ourselves.

This is me raising my hand.


[1] Dell’Antonia, KJ. “Talking About Why Women Can’t Have It All.” New York Times, 21 June 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Dreamreader. . . or Dreamwriter

I typically don’t spend much time analyzing my dreams. Usually, if I wake up remembering clearly the details of a dream, it means that I’ve slept well and my body has been working on making a dent in my sleep debt. I generally feel grateful and move on with the day. But over the past few months I’ve had a recurring dream that distresses me as it plays out and leaves me feeling unsettled the next morning.

In the dream, I’m back in college, enrolled in a full load of courses, one of which is an upper-level French seminar that is critical for my major. I suddenly realize that, while I’ve been keeping up with biology and my other classes, for this one I have not only neglected all of the reading but also forgotten that a major paper analyzing this reading is due in just a few days. (In progressive iterations of the dream, the due date moves closer and closer. Last night, I dreamed that it had already passed.) And of course the class is being taught by my favorite professor.

Perhaps this is just a personalized version of the classic today’s-the-final-exam-and-I-forgot-to-study nightmare. But I’m not so sure. I typically don’t have those dreams, and the fact that the oversight involves reading and writing strikes me as significant. In July I began my year as chief resident and had high hopes that the more relaxed schedule would allow me more time to devote to my literary interests. In truth, I have had the time but haven’t allocated it accordingly. Yes, there have been other demands on my attention – acclimating to my new role, launching a new component of our curriculum, preparing for the pediatrics board-certification exam, parenting a toddler – but there remain enough hours in each week to spend at least a few on the activities that really nourish my soul. I have been sensing a void in my life recently, and, despite having a wonderful family and adoring my job, feeling less than fulfilled. Perhaps my subconscious realized that it needed to send me a clearer message.

This time I heard it.

It’s time to write.

Final Week to Order!

We are entering the final week for pre-sales of my poetry book, “Tools for Survival,” to be published this spring by Finishing Line Press. Why purchase during the pre-sales period? The number of copies sold will determine the size of my initial press-run, so every copy sold between today and January 23 will help. Just click on the link below for ordering details.

Thank you everyone for your support!


Tools for Survival

My poetry book, “Tools for Survival,” is available for pre-sale!! If you are thinking of buying a copy, please do it now because the number sold during this period will determine the actual press run. Thanks for your support!

Click here for more info:



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