Several weeks ago, I went out to get the mail and found a very official-looking envelope from my state's BME. My heart suddenly migrated north into my throat and began to race. It was my license renewal form.
Now, I had already discussed my situation with the very nice lady who handles "status" type questions at the BME last spring, but one of the unfortunate things about having an obsessive personality is that your brain just can't LET. IT. GO. until it is 150% satisfied that you have checked the correct box. I'm sure the BME has a whole database filled with people like me under the heading "Worriers".
So I called. Again. And was told, again, that I AM the definition of an "Emeritus" physician.
For some reason I feel like I should be 80 years old and giving guest lectures at a liberal arts college.
My new license arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, with my new status. Going through this "change of status" process has had a large sense of finality to it. It's very bizarre to spend half of your life working so hard to achieve something, and then to take yourself out of an "active" medical life with one checked box. I do not miss my job at all, but I do feel sad that I was not able to truly enjoy working as a physician.
My license still has the phrase "MUST BE POSTED IN A CONSPICUOUS PLACE" in bold black letters across the bottom of it. For some reason, the irony was just too much for me, and I tacked it up on my bulletin board above the computer. Sometimes, there's nothing else to do but laugh at yourself.
Well, it's that time of year again -- company Christmas Party time -- and, as the boss's wife, I have an obligation to attend. One benefit of my short-lived career in medicine, however, is that I have become much more comfortable talking to strangers.
When it came time to sit for dinner, I found myself seated across from a young man who works as a programmer in the IT department. I soon discovered that he works part-time and goes to school part-time in order to -- you guessed it -- complete his pre-reqs for med school.
<insert big sigh here>
I asked him what area of medicine interested him the most and he proudly proclaimed himself in love with neurology, although he apparently has never worked in a hospital or directly with patients, and couldn't really explain why he was so drawn to study the brain. He wants to get into an MD/PhD program, because "that's really the be-all and end-all, isn't it?"
Then, for several minutes, HE proceeded to educate ME on the need for health care reform, while I tried to keep a straight face.
I find it so incredibly ridiculous to see politicians and other talking heads on TV, who have never even seen the inside of a hospital except to get their tonsils out, pontificate about what is wrong with our health care system while nobody seems interested in talking to the people who actually have to try to work within it. And this guy had SO OBVIOUSLY been practicing this spiel, I felt like I was his trial-run before appearing before an admissions committee. Sadly, it was almost comical.
Weary of this conversation, I soon managed to change the subject, and asked what project he was working on for my husband's company. His face immediately lit up, and he began describing his project in a very animated fashion. He then told me that his friends who also did programming at other companies were jealous of him, because he got to actually create something, and had alot of autonomy. He felt challenged, and like he learned something new almost every day.
I don't think I have ever looked like that when talking about medicine. He certainly didn't, either.
My husband joined the table at that point, and the conversation drifted towards talk of the latest projects and meetings and other work-related things.
Now, I've never relished the role of Wet Blanket, and raining on other people's parades is not my idea of a good time. On the way home, however, I did feel guilty for not making an effort to give this young man a more realistic view of medicine. But in all honesty, I found him to be very immature and stereotyped in his perceptions of physicians, and medicine as a career, and I'm pretty sure that an admissions committee would feel the same. And I know that he probably would not have listened to anything I would have tried to say anyway.
I do think it is a shame that he doesn't realize how lucky he is to be so happy with his current job. It has been a long time since I have seen someone look so happy and fulfilled when talking about their work. I wish that I could have looked that way when I was in practice.
I have officially been out of practice for a year.
For the first time since med school, I was able to spend the entire holiday season with friends and family. There was no need to try and coordinate family visits with call schedules, or deal with a pager interrupting Christmas dinner, and I just felt this overwhelming sense of happiness. My husband and I reminisced about previous holidays: “Hey, remember the time you were on call on Thanksgiving and I brought some leftovers to you in the call room and you got to eat like two bites before you had to go deliver a baby?” I was on call last Christmas, and spent much of it outside in the cold giving admission orders and answering home calls. I remember how lonely that feels.
I recently saw a show on TV about grief, and a widow was talking about how the first year after losing a loved one was the toughest, in part because your mind always goes back to “this time last year we were…” I identified with what she was saying because I think I have spent a lot of time feeling like “this time last year I was miserable” and I felt so relieved when the new year started.
This time last year I was pregnant, well-rested, and happy.
I think I have finally come to a peaceful place in my mind about leaving medicine, and I no longer wonder if I have made the right decision. I have been asked many of the same questions by friends and through PMs here on this forum, and I have given them a lot of thought:
*Am I glad that I completed my training, or do I wish that I had left medicine earlier?
-I don’t think that I would be nearly as happy as I am now if I had not finished my residency and worked in the “real world” for a bit. I spent my entire young adult life wanting to pursue a medical career, and I know that I would have been very disappointed in myself if I had quit halfway through. Also, I have met some SAHMs who are not happy with staying home, who still want to get an advanced degree or start a business, and I think I don’t feel that same kind of restlessness because I have achieved my goal.
*Do I think I will ever return to work in medicine?
-No, not as a physician. After my kid(s) start school, and I have a little bit of time on my hands, I look forward to volunteering in their classrooms, and at a hospice, or maybe Meals on Wheels. Maybe I will even find a job in a completely different field that does not require my family to make the same kind of sacrifices that medicine does. I’m OK with just waiting and seeing how things go.
*What has been the hardest part about leaving medicine?
-Meeting new people. I don’t really have any other SAHM friends, and I belong to two different mom/baby groups where I am slowly getting to know other moms. Everyone always asks if I worked before I became a mom, and it really becomes quite exhausting to have to explain about being a physician and why I’m staying home. I really do think it is a barrier, and I’m just trying to accept that it is going to be harder to make friends and not give up on it.
*Do I wish that I had gone into Derm or Radiology instead of primary care?
-Believe me, we were having the same discussions about which specialties were more “family-friendly” than others ten years ago, and it doesn’t look like much has changed. I TRIED to like derm (and ophtho, and rads) but I found myself getting bored during the rotations, and I really wanted to have the personal relationships and impact that comes with being a primary care doc. I have some wonderful, cherished memories of some of my patients through the years, and I hold onto those.
I started this blog because I felt like I was the only person in the world who ever left medicine, and I thought that maybe someone else contemplating the same decision could benefit from my mental musings. I have received many PMs from other SAHM/MDs, and I have appreciated knowing that we are facing some of the same issues and challenges. I have also enjoyed the PMs from women in various stages of training, and I hope that I have been helpful to you as you make your own big decisions. Life truly is all about choices.
Well. You are not alone. But we are hard to find. I have left medicine twice, and I commiserate with the soul searching and difficulties you encountered. I just started a blog:
My very first set of posts relates the heart crunching saga of my first departure. I wish you the best, and I really enjoyed the blog (and finding a kindred spirit.) Dr.Nostrum