I cannot believe it has been almost 4 months since I wrote the post about my miscarriage, 1 year since I left a toxic work environment and dove into health care leadership, 2 years since residency ended, 5 years since becoming a mommy, 12 years since graduating from college, and almost 30 years since I proclaimed that I wanted to become a doctor.
Through it all I have learned so much and I am truly indebted to the colleagues and mentors who have helped me craft this career. I am even more so indebted to my loving husband and family who constantly teach me that my happiness is worth it and at the end of the day, a job is a job, is a job and when you aren’t in your job, the job goes on, the world does not end.
Motherhood changes you. Partnership changes you. Medical training changes you. Motherhood in particular, puts a new perspective on things. And in my opinion, it makes you question things that you had never questioned before. It makes you prioritize in ways that you hadn’t before.
For example, for my whole life I’ve known that I wanted to become a doctor. I never waxed nor waned in that belief. Though it was hard at times, I knew I would achieve that goal and I did. But I also realize that it might not have happened. My heart cries for the countless young medical students who don’t match into residencies. For the countless applicants who go into super extreme debt to attend post-bacc programs or use private loans to finance medical educations in international schools (I know far too many!) and then to not match?!? I can’t fathom that. But that could have been me, could have been any of us. It has happened to some of my friends. But now as a mother as I reflect with other women physicians, so many of us question our decision. In particularly frazzled moments, we say emphatically that it was not worth and we would not do it again and we would discourage our children from pursuing medicine. What was it that shifted our beliefs? Was it aging? Was it pregnancy hormones? We may never know.
I started residency with a newly crawling baby. I began questioning things that I had learned, that seemed so dichotomized, so absolute because caring for my snuggly little Zo taught me that everything and I mean everything is shades of grey, covered in drops of breastmilk and smeared in shea butter and kisses. There was no more black and white,no more textbook answers to lull me into a false sense of security.
And the changes continued, each moment and each role took on new meaning. Weekends off from work took new meaning. I had a baby to raise and learn and love. I had an amazingly supportive and successful husband to dote on and love. Each moment became more precious because when I was at work, I had to completely be present caring for and keeping alive someone else’s baby. Time at work took on new meaning. Every time things got rough, I would say to myself “this is someone’s baby! This is someone’s baby! Do your freaking best! Love up on this family and this baby! Do the right thing by this baby!” and it worked. I was able to care for countless patients and their families.
I started my first attending job. The one I knew was going to be my dream job. And it wasn’t. From the very beginning. The burn out was palpable among my partners, the check in staff, the medical support staff, the nurses. In my first few weeks, I was warned by various members of the staff to literally “get out” before the patients lured me into staying forever. I didn’t know how to process it. This was my “dream job” at my dream institution, a top 10 children’s health system in a highly desirable area. The one that I was supposed to stay in, rising through the ranks, being a tireless advocate for my patients and their families. But I looked around at the colleagues who had trained me as a medical student and no one was happy.
Everyone was raging against the machine of big-institution medicine without the tools they needed and without the support of the administrators. There were partners who were months behind in charting on the outdated electronic medical record. There were partners who worked hours from home each night and who spent more time charting than seeing patients. There were incompetent team members, difficult to work with management, and mountains of red-tape and bureaucracy at every level and it frustrated us to no end! We were understaffed at every level but the message from the higher ups was “do more, see more patients! You’re not meeting your numbers!” while we providers questioned the safety and quality of fitting in another patient, of overbooking overbooked slots, of opening earlier and closing later. This scenario isn’t unique. I hear countless stories from other physicians in private and academic medicine, from friends working for nonprofits, I could go on. And when you hear it from so many people in so many industries, you realize that we are all workers. We all struggle with the same things, but it is up to us to find our niche, our space where we can deal with the “particular brand of crazy” of an organization.
My mama heart made me extra courageous, extra fierce. I began to network and met a group of other outstanding physicians many of whom were mamas who had experiences just like. They found the strength and courage to craft professional lives that were more in line with their beliefs and their experiences gave me strength and I began to let go of the made up dream as I began to develop a new dream.
If it weren’t for my husband and my family, I never would have had the courage to leave. But I did. I spent countless time and even significant money on legal fees fighting and it’s not even over yet (always, I repeat, always consult with an employment lawyer early when you first begin to worry about retaliation or have safety concerns, just do it! Human Resources works for your employer and unfortunately not really for you). But you know what - MY HAPPINESS IS WORTH IT! I trained too long and too hard to not be valued, to be underappreciated and you did too! We are worth it. We must advocate for ourselves and our happiness as a matter of survival. Physician burnout is on the rise and unfortunately so is physician suicide. Your life is worth it! You should not be miserable in your job! Being a mama made me more courageous. What would I tell Zo if he was going through this? I would tell him find a new job, it’ll be okay! You’re worth it! I know they tell us it’s our calling and although that may be true - a job, is a job, is a job!
This last year in part-time health care leadership coupled with part-time direct pediatric primary care has been a whirlwind. Scary and beautiful, overwhelming and exhilarating. Exhausting and empowering. I have been getting my lean-in on! And the view from my first big girl office is the bomb!
And because I have been courageous enough to sit myself down at the big-kids’ table I realize that we really do have expertise when allow ourselves to do what we are good at. Working with a major managed care organization, I understand why providers are asked to check off certain boxes in our patient assessments and I realize that this information must get back to the providers. I realize how essential physicians such as myself are in re-envisioning health care.
Everyone has a boss, every organization has a parent organization and auditors to respond to. The system is such that major revision is needed to truly improve outcomes. Though my overall happiness has increased tremendously, the job is still a job. And I don’t think enough physicians, especially those in training, fully grapple with that. You still have people who are burned out; though honestly, much less here in my new office. You still have issues with incompetent people and I had to terminate my first staff member a few months ago. But “this particular brand of crazy” is one that I can deal with and is one I am thriving in. It’s one that my family can deal with.
Thank you for sharing in my self reflection.
Have you done your own personal review lately? If so, please share. What have you learned? How have you changed?