As medical students, we are trained to anticipate the next step, being a resident. As a resident, we are placed on track to know 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, ambitious doctor, can’t find the “right position” that fits?
This is exactly where I’ve found myself a number of times.
Most don’t understand this 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?”
The three times
I had an attending tell me I was throwing my career away when I got pregnant as a fourth-year medical student.
I was back after only a 4-week maternity leave, otherwise I would have had to remediate my PGY-1 year. Again, I was told poor family planning was my choice. Why hadn’t I 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 survive.
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 change.
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 backwards.
Life is meant to be lived, experienced and enjoyed. As doctors, we fully know that 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 type 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 make an impact in the lives of others.
But in order 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, I gain a new, 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 http://www.truthrxs.com/ or hang out with her on social media @truthrxs
To hang out more with some amazing women doctors like her, check out the Women in White Coats Doctors’ Lounge, our virtual doctors’ lounge just for women doctors. Its an exclusive membership area meant to empower and support you through out your career. Inside our Doctors Lounge you will get to partake in webinars from experts on topics relevant to women physicians, monthly online support groups and even a book club. To become a member click this link.
Excellent article which I can really connect with on account of switching my career from clinical to research medicine! Better work life balance and still trying to establish my non traditional path while being faced with the exact same questions from people around me.
Thanks for this! I have felt the EXACT same way- the long hours at work is actually the wasteful part…not the time living life with my family. 💙
Congratulations Erin for your courage, decisions, and for sharing !!
That’s awesome! I have had a different path that others don’t understand. I recently said to a colleague that I don’t want my career to ruin my life. I agree that many docs are “throwing away” other very important things in life. Continue your path. You’ll be more fulfilled for it!
I am doing my internship and an attending asked me what specialty i was considering. Then he followed it by, remember if you have children, “la mayor responsabilidad recae sobre ti como madre” ( The major responsibility is on you as a mother). That’s usually how it’s viewed in the hispanic community. It got me thinking about how I could achieve a work life balance and then I stumbled into your article. Great article! Any advice as to choosing specialty that will allow allow good work/life balance without being viewed as sacrificing the opportunity to make a lasting contribution? About me: I am a U.S. IMG, graduated 2016.
Thank you for writing this.
It’s so much the story of my career and life too.
It made me cry reading it and to have my feelings validated.
I so agree ! I was just able to go as needed in the urgent care I work at
I have been doctor and found my forever place once and it was as locum but unfortunately is 7 hours from home and me and family refused to move
Medicine as a women doctor is so difficult we are treated so different especially by female nurses
That is just my experience
Thank you! for sharing your perspectives – I so appreciate you reflecting on how we can be ‘captains of our own ships’. I remember when I took a year off with the birth of my first child. I was met with some judgement, skepticism and suspicion (from colleagues, neighbors, ‘friends’, family, men or women) instead of a celebration about what we as human beings (not just physicians) value and seek for in our own lives. In preparation for that year, I saved to ensure that I could still pay my loan (and I eventually paid my med student loan off within 4 years of graduating from residency!). We could all benefit from breaking free of the narrow constraints of a ‘traditional’ hierarchy of the medical career path.
Dr. Weisman- Hooray for you. You are right on. As a pediatrician of 30 years now, I was told the same thing: that if I changed the rules of practice and parented my kids rather than having a nanny or daycare do it, then I was a fool and would regret the decision one day. Well, that day has come and I have NO regrets. I spent more time raising my kids than I did practicing and my kids are far better off. We have a very close relationship now that they are adults and they (now mothers) thank me for making the hard choice. Women- we will never regret spending more time with our kids but we may regret spending more time at work and ignoring our kids. As a pediatrician who has seen thousands of kids grow up, I can tell you that those whose parents put career ahead of them, suffered deeply. Let’s sacrifice more for the ones we love than for the work we do. It takes a lot of strength to push back against a culture that says that our professions matter more than our kids. But the pushback makes all the difference in our kids’ lives.
I work per diem as a hospitalist and I enjoy raising my four children.
I behave like a human being who cries, gets hurt, smiles , who can be vulnerable too..
The problem with medicine is that it is stereotyped and needs to be reshaped! Doctors are human beings..should have a life and be happy!They should also have unions and be protected like everyone else..
I totally agree with the need for work life balance, but we can’t all quit medicine and be life coaches. Would have appreciated talking about how to stay in the game and find the balance.
If you want to work 40 hours/week and make $90,000 you should have been a nurse practitioner. White women walked through the doors of affirmative action. No one, in medicine or corporate America make 6 figures working 40 hours.
This is great! I just finished a psychiatry fellowship in one of the more rigorous subspecialties. I hated it! I interviewed for some positions that were “great opportunities” but the thought of doing them made me so anxious I started losing sleep. I opted to take a part time telepsych job and I so much happier. I am developing hobbies and learning to live more.
So true Errin!
The truth is that many of us don’t have the courage to ‘step out’ because the future is uncertain, especially in less developed countries like mine.
Love it. I left my plastic surgery residency when I got married… my marriage was so much more important and I didn’t want 4 more years of never seeing my husband.
I am now an Oculofacial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon…. about to jump again so that I can do what is best for me, no stay in the peg hole others would like me to stay in…
I started medical school at 27 after working in microbiology research for 7 years after college and had my first child when I was a 3rd year student. I had the second when I was a second year OB GYN resident, and the third was born 6 weeks after I went into practice. After doing OB for 15 years I quit the OB and started my own solo GYN practice in a different city to avoid the non-compete. I didn’t bring home a paycheck for a year afterwards so I could pay my staff. I love what I do. I would do it all again. All except the corporate medicine. If this is throwing your life away so be it.
A person helping another person do what she could not do? Hmmm….
Amen, Erin!! We are not put on Earth to follow someone else’s script for us. It is possible to love what one does for a living(yes, that is, after all, what “doctoring” is) without allowing it to become the raison d’etere for our existence. Good for you, and may you always enjoy life!
So you took the road less traveled by; good for you!
I was enrolled in a medical college. The class had 90 students 60 females and thirty males. We male student used say how many of the 60 female students will eventually be practicing 20 years from then. They took away the seat from an eligible candidate who eventually become and practice what he learned. Though what you are saying is noble and I understand fully well what you are saying and empathise with you. I wonder silently through for not offending the opposite sex did you really take away someone else’s opportunity?
I absolutely loved this article. I applaud you for knowing yourself, deeply knowing yourself and directing your life accordingly. I see all too often people working more than actually living and it makes me sad. I hope your article will resonate with multiple people and give them courage to reflect on their current status and possibly re-route their future path.