I, too, took the giant leap of faith and left medicine nearly two years ago, after the birth of my third child.
My rural, all-consuming family practice clinic, hospital, and OB work completely burned me out; add in the fact that my internist husband was also working 24/7, and it made for a miserable existence. My sanity, my marriage, and the well-being of my children seemed to be hanging in the (lack of) balance. We left that practice (and state) with plans for us to both work in a new community with a much more realistic work expectation.
However, despite being generally happy with the change, I could no longer ignore the calling to be home with my kids. Add in the fact that my mother had been diagnosed with rapidly progressing early-onset Alzheimer's Disease, and one quickly learns that life is too short for "if only" and "what ifs"....
That three month maternity leave has become a two-year absence from medicine. I haven't even touched my stethoscope since early December 2006. The moment I resigned was terrifying. I knew it was the right thing to do, but it was frightening and life-altering; in fact, I nearly had panic attacks after I made the decision to leave. Although I was overall happy with my decision, I did grieve that "loss" and the sense of identity I once had. I analyzed the decision for days and even weeks until I finally grew comfortable with the new me. It was definitely a step out of my comfort zone, but that is the kind of step that really teaches us about ourselves. That kind of change is what makes us grow.
Being a stay-at-home mom to three children under the age of 4 (now ages 2, 5, 6) was a challenge (and still is!!). I had and still have very little help, no close family, and my husband significantly ramped up his moonlighting hours so we could continue to feel safe financially without my employment. (We always planned our finances to be able to "live" on one income... We aren't suffering, but things like retirement financing have taken a bit of a hit. I also had to pay a huge pay-out to our first employer to leave my contract a year early...)
Despite the emotional and mental challenge of being the 24/7 mom, and despite the change in finances, I know I made the right decision. I have not, for a moment, regretted taking that leap. I have been the mother and wife I couldn't be before. I now take my kids to school, I am able to take my daughter to gymnastics and music class in the mornings, I don't experience sheer panic when a child wakes up sick at night, wondering how I can reschedule my clinic.... Life is crazy and chaotic and total pandamonium at times. But I am actually THERE for it--physically AND mentally.
When I left, I had no idea if I would return or not... I decided that decision would reveal itself with time, and it has. I am in the process of resuming a very, very limited "career" in medicine...mainly one urgent care shift a month with the same organization I left two years ago. (I will admit I have fears of competency but am trying to deal with that!) Perhaps when my children are all in school I will add more hours, but I will likely not resume a traditional practice. I am not going to go back to the previous life. I am still called and compelled to be there for my children.
I once thought I could do it all. I know now that I can't (at least not to the level I would expect), and I am finally ok with that. I have given myself permission to make the choice that is right for myself and my family, even if that meant ignoring the personal and professional expectations others may have had for me or that I may have had for myself. Life is too short to be unhappy and too short to regret.
mom1st, I was wondering how you were doing! Your story echoes a book I recently read, "Opting Out." The author interviewed some professional women who had left the workforce to take care of their families. She did a very interesting analysis. They all had the expected stories about wanting to be hands-on mothers and some needed to take care of elderly parents as well. But the other part of the story was that the workplace (theirs and their professional husbands') was not flexible enough to allow them to make juggling everything possible. Then, once they left work, their husbands were able to ramp up their own work hours and cut back on domestic tasks, and then it seemed even less possible to return to work. They all did enjoy their professions when they were working, and they all tried really hard to make it work before quitting, but after they were home for a while, they were pessimistic about returning to work.
I'm really glad you are able to keep your options open by working urgent care. Hopefully that job will be flexible enough to allow you to parent and will also allow you some professional fulfillment. Good luck!
I echo your position. I too have been out of formal medicine for nearly two years and loving it. There are hard days. But I would not change it. I scratch that little doctor itch on Friday evenings when I volunteer at a medical clinic with kids who are uninsured. It is very rewarding. It is even more rewarding to be at home with my three kids. I will go back to medicine, as I keep one foot in the door. We only get this time in our lives once. I don't think when I am laying on my death bed one day...will I say...I wish I had worked more and spent less time with my family.
About six years ago I made the choice to work very part time, in urgent care care one afternoon a week and two days at Social Security reviewing charts for disability. My youngest child (of 3) was in high school, and I wanted to work on my book, When the Personal was Political:Five Women Doctors Look Back, which was published this year. I find both jobs very satisfying, although they wouldn't work for everyone. Social Security is a combination of law and medicine, intellectually challenging but not as stressful as direct patient care (I'm a general internist). In urgent care in a public clinic, I feel that I am meeting real needs. In the book, I write about the careers/personal lives of five women, my study group in medical school. We all combined motherhood and medicine in different ways. Now that our children are grown, we are all glad we stuck with some sort of practice when they were little. I recently met a woman who had to start practicing again at age 65 after years of retirement. Her husband died and his children took half the estate. You never know. Toni Martin