As medical students, we are trained to anticipate the next step, being a resident. As a resident, we are consistently reminded that there are offices, hospitals, clinics, etc. that need us. The position is waiting; you just have to fall in line and find the right one.
But what if how you practice medicine doesn’t have a current location or job title?
What if you, an ambitious doctor, can’t find the “right position” that fits what you want for your life?
This is exactly where I’ve found myself a number of times.
Many don’t understand and ask, “You went to med school and trained as a family medicine physician, so why can’t you fit the mold? Why are you throwing your life away?”
How I “threw my life away”
I had an attending tell me I was throwing my career away when I got pregnant as a fourth-year medical student.
I had to return to work after only 4-weeks of maternity leave, otherwise, I would have had to remediate my PGY-1 year. I was told poor family planning was my choice and was asked why I hadn’t thought that through more?
My next “throwing my life away” moment was when I resigned from my first practice with a huge penalizing year-long non-compete to endure.
Then guess what…I did it again. I left my ER job to become a full-time life coach and mentor for fellow doctor moms who wanted to create a sustainable work/life balance.
If you try to do something different as a doctor; if you try to create a position that actually allows for a healthy work/life balance, it’s looked on with suspicion. Why is switching gears to something perceived as “easier” – less rigorous, less revered – often seen as “throwing your life away?”
But here’s the thing: I think we have it backward
Life is meant to be lived, experienced and enjoyed. As doctors, we fully know we only get today. We dance with death. We fight against illness intimately.
What if working 60, 70, 80 or more hours a week is throwing your life away?
What if always missing bedtime and birthdays is throwing your life away?
What if you know your nurse better than your spouse?
What if loathing most days of a long medical career is throwing your life away?
What if the profession we worked our whole lives to achieve turns out not to be the be-all, end-all, most important thing in life?
Many times the answer back to these types of questions is “Well, I saved those lives.” But I ask, “Is the sacrifice worth the result?” To some of my colleagues, it is. But not for me.
I love medicine. I love helping people. I didn’t love being so burnt out that I lost empathy for the people I was serving. I didn’t love being snubbed and disrespected as a female physician and then told I was too sensitive when I reported it to administrators. I do not love giving more of my soul to my job than to the ones I love.
I realized I don’t have to put up with being burnt out and disrespected in order to be a doctor. I can find a position that allows me to be a present mom, a loving spouse, an excellent healthcare provider AND makes an impact in the lives of others.
But to do this, I had to go away from the norm, the typical, the status quo. Each time, I had to “throw away my life”. But in return, each time I gain a new and better one.
Will I ever find my forever place in medicine? Truthfully, I don’t know. But if I have to create a way by “throwing my life away” again, you better believe I will.
Errin Weisman, D.O., is a physician life coach and mentor for doctor moms who want to create sustainable work/life fit. You can find more about her work at https://www.doctormefirst.com/ or hang out with her on social media @errinweisman.