Got disenchantment?

Is it how difficult medicine is these days? Is it the rapid information highway becoming wider and wider that makes it bad? Is it the constant influx of patients? Is it the increasing tensions of liability related to error? Is it problems in our training? Is it just us?

Why do I find myself among more and more of my colleagues and fellow medical graduates who seem to be disenchanted with being physicians?  Many of these colleagues, more than I would like to admit, have been frankly unhappy with their career choice. They would quit today if they knew they didn’t have $200K in debt to repay.

This is a sad, sad thing, dear readers. We all joined medicine because we wanted to help others, to make a difference in people’s lives. Yet the stresses of the every day – especially after completion of training – makes everyone’s jobs a risk to their sanity. It doesn’t seem to matter whether one chooses of the ‘softer’ primary care fields (which are very demanding in terms of time and less financially rewarding) or one of the ones more stereotypically friendly in terms of hours, like emergency medicine or anesthesiology (both of which can be demanding emotionally and extremely stressful). We all seem to be dissatisfied in our own ways.

And it is coming to a point that friends–for whom I thought everything was going to work out just fine — now face greater struggles than I imagined.  And let me tell you: to think after 10+ years of post-high-school studies and tremendous financial investment that a career might be the wrong one for you . . . .well, it feels pretty bad.

I might dare to admit openly here that at several points in my career, I have been one of the disenchanted.  I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for medicine, unsure if my desire to do so many things in life was compatible with the dedication and focus required of a medical career.

The daily demands also make it tough to recognize the rewards; it’s easy to see negatives before positives. On some days, challenging patients made it tough. On other days during training, my mistakes led me toward depression. The stress of coming home to to thinking of families’ difficulties can cast a shadow on the evenings. Despite all this, the joys of helping grateful patients, the intellectual stimuli present in everything I learned, helped urge me on.  For years suppression of my not-so-secret desires to pursue more creative subjects seemed easy enough. One must focus in getting to a destination. If that focus requires quitting singing for a short period of time, it’s ok, right? A medical career is more stable and must be just as fulfilling, though in a different way.

Yet so much of choosing a medical career feels like it involves constant sacrifice. It seems like so many of us wait and wait to do what we want to do: in terms of finding life partners, pursuing non career-related interests, getting sleep. The best-adjusted people I seem to meet in medicine seem to come from one of three sets of attitues: those who pursued other careers first and then came to medicine later in life, those who continued to pursue their other interests but knew they did not want to make a career out of them–music, sports, whatever, and those for whom medicine was pretty much the best thing ever.

But how does one successfully live out life while carrying on with so demanding a master as medicine? I went through so many moments during residency, when I felt like no hour was mine to plan, no weekend was definitely mine to enjoy.  I was a slave to a schedule greater and more important than my own.  This feeling unfortunately does not end for everyone with residency, as many careers demand hours outside a Monday to Friday, 9-5 schedule. And for those of us who waited for many years to find our life partners and are just now marrying and having children, we just don’t feel like we have time for everything. It just doesn’t seem like it would be the same for a man.  Yes, anyone can clean the house, cook, and help get household duties done, but there is something about being a woman that makes you feel more responsible. In taking care of the children partners can similarly share in duties, but when things get rough, babies want their mamas.  It’s a strange feeling to go from being completely career-focused to suddenly thinking that maybe those stay-at-home “work at home” mamas have the right idea. There’s more to it, but I’m just a bit too tired and a bit too disorganized to express everything about the struggles of us disenchanted folks in this mere blog post.

And so I write to express my own quibbles with my career. My colleagues have taken to writing, to talking, to taking time off from the medical career to see what may bring them a sense of self again. As for me, I think that the future holds something nontraditional in terms of medicine, but I just don’t know what.  Clearly, stay-at-home mom isn’t the answer for me, just as constant full-time job isn’t the answer for me.  Not having any responsibilities outside the home would drive me crazy.  For now working part-time brings me that balance that I so craved during residency. Unfortunately I don’t have the energy to sing actively these days, nor can I pursue some of those hobbies which I used to dive into fully headfirst in the past. But blogging has been fun. Cooking healthfully (and at times, not so healthfully) for my family helps me get creative. And face it: my little L hears much more singing from his mom than I think he could have every hoped for while he was in the womb. One day I hope that I have the time to pursue medical writing and presenting patient education in creative ways.  Fortunately, here in my blog, hopefully some of that creativity and education is coming across, even with these much more personal postings!