On Doctoring

As we get ready to leave, I also think about what it will be like to leave medical practice and working for an entire year as well. I’m not the first to do this, of course, many others take a break from their work for other reasons including family, illness and others. Still, it gives me some pause.

I have often had a mixed relationship with medicine. For a very, very long time I did not really enjoy medicine at all. I felt as if I had gotten into medicine as a way to help generally healthy and productive people who had unfortunately become ill, and treat them back to their healthy and productive lives. Much of what I now do is treat chronically ill people who have flares of their chronic illness, and much of that chronic illness is self inflicted by lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and poor diet. Add to that the increasing pressures put on doctors to meet unobtainable and poorly measured metrics and the constant barrage of negative media about physicians (they’re just after our money, in the pockets of the drug company, etc.) and it’s not an easy path. Of course, the moment a physician starts talking about how it is a difficult career, they’re roundly criticized for complaining from their privileged position. I think if this was something I was getting into solely for the money, there are easier jobs to attain with less training that pay a hell of a lot more in which you’re not responsible for someone else’s life.  Anyway, often times at work people will answer the question “How’s it going?” with a sarcastic”Oh, you know, living the dream,” as I did myself for quite some time.

Having said all that and having the perspective of a few more years under my belt and seeing what other careers are like, in many ways I do think we’re living the dream in the medical profession, at least in my neck of the woods. I have a job in which I am helping people at a critical juncture in their lives, and doing things that can really make a difference. I’m in a job which is intellectually challenging and is never dull or boring. I work with other intelligent people and get to collaborate in interesting ways. For all of this, I’m compensated fairly and and am able to live a comfortable life. Are there very rough days? Are there people who I’d rather not deal with? Are there some days I wish I could just stay home? Well, sure, but isn’t that pretty much the same for any profession?

All of this to say that I wonder how it will be to leave it for a year. I’m not someone who gets bored in general, and I think I’ll find plenty to do during my year of housewifery. When I think about leaving work for a full year, my initial reaction is one of elation and relief, to not have the stresses of work for a full year.And it may be that that is indeed exactly what happens and I find that I don’t miss doctoring at all. This is all, of course, a position of great privilege-many people in my field don’t have the option to just leave it behind for a year, even if they would wish to.

There is a small part of me, though, that is a bit suspicious that I’m actually going to have a harder time leaving behing a professional identity and sense of purpose than I’m realizing. I think of this more as I enjoy interactions at work whether with coworkers or patients, and to think about how those bring variety to my day in a way that my family could not.

Perhaps I’ll just be living a different sort of dream, no?



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