Should You Stay or Leave Medicine?
I left my primary care practice to focus on life coaching. Why did I leave? Because I wanted to do more and make a bigger impact.
I remember how eager I was to complete medical training as I approached the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I could finally relax and enjoy life as an attending after all the delayed gratification from becoming a doctor. All I ever wanted was to help people feel better and live a life of ease myself.
However, I was disappointed and frustrated by our broken health care system and how care coordination could impact patient outcomes negatively. Working as a PCP in the pandemic didn’t make it any easier. I saw so many patients suffer and felt helpless that I couldn’t do more. I wanted to offer healing on a deeper level by examining the root cause in order to change things for good and care for the person as a whole. But I was feeling stuck. I was afraid to leave my stable job. Medicine was all I knew. What else could I do?
And then I started working with a life coach and things shifted immediately. I learned how to examine my thoughts and feelings, take responsibility for how I was feeling instead of blaming others, and believe in my own self-worth and capabilities as a human, not just a physician.
Having been a lifelong perfectionist and overachiever attending top schools, this was a big shift as I was constantly chasing the carrot and seeking training and certifications, thinking my accomplishments would change how others see me and make me feel better about myself.
Coaching helped me realize that I didn’t have to leave a challenging work situation or cut ties with people to feel better. I had the power to decide. In every moment. I didn’t want to quit my job to “escape”.
I learned to love my job and was so grateful for the opportunity to serve as a physician. And then I made the decision to leave, because I wanted to. I wasn’t in a hurry, thinking somewhere out there would be better than here, and that’s how I knew it was the right decision for me.
When I tell people I left medicine for coaching, I get many blank stares and looks of confusion. They would lament all the school and training I went through, as if all those years of experience were wasted and didn’t serve me now.
Let me tell you, physicians do not give themselves enough credit. You are an expert. Many of the skills we developed as physicians are easily transferable in other roles. You have so much to offer!
If you are a physician exploring a career change, I invite you to consider the following:
- Why did you pursue medicine in the first place?
- What did you expect your career experience to be?
- What do you like about your job?
- Why do you want to leave?
- What kind of life do you want to lead?
- What are your priorities and values in life?
With the pandemic, I know it hasn’t been easy. Physician burnout is at an all-time high. Similar to the Great Resignation happening in the corporate world, many physicians are also at a crossroads considering leaving their stable jobs for the possibility of more time, wealth and happiness. While everyone has different responsibilities and circumstances to consider, I want you to check-in with yourself first.
Even if you have no clue what else you could do right now, I want you to play make-believe for a minute.
In an ideal world where anything is possible, what would you really like to do? What were the things that you loved most as a kid? What makes you laugh and fills you up with joy and pride? How can you bring some of this fun and play into your every day now?
The good news is, you get to choose! This is not a post to convince you that one is better than the other but simply an invitation for you to pause and consider what would be in your best interest.
Medical training and clinical work is an intense and meaningful journey. A non-clinical career can be equally intense and meaningful. At the end of the day, you are at your best when you are doing something you truly love. Your energy and enthusiasm is inspiring and magnetic. Maybe you can’t wait to start work or the day is over before you know it, in a good way. You are focused and challenged, you are in flow and enjoying the present moment.
While I left traditional primary care, taking a break allowed me to see that medicine is still a part of my identity and am exploring serving through an integrative and functional medicine practice instead. Just because you step away doesn’t mean it’s forever.
Please know that whether you experience flow working in medicine or not, it doesn’t matter.
Give yourself permission to explore.
You can stay or you can leave.
If you are concerned about what others will think, just remember that other people will always have an opinion, whether you like it or not. Besides, we just have our own ideas of what others are thinking but who knows what they’re actually thinking? We cannot control other people.
Do you want to spend all your time explaining yourself to people who may never understand or do you want to focus your energy on sharing your gifts and talents and making an impact?
I know you are a good person who is here to make the world a better place, and you can do that by being you because you are enough, just as you are. Look for what’s working and bring some fun into your every day so you can live a life of ease and joy starting now. Thank you to all my fellow physicians for all the work you do!
Article originally appeared on KevinMD in 2021.