A great client of mine agreed to share this piece he wrote on his career transition. He is an ER physician who is currently pursuing other options. Comments are welcome.
So, I want to change careers. More specifically, I would like to change my career from that of a clinical, emergency department physician to that of… well, something non-clinical. I suppose the exact “what” has yet to be determined. I must say, the process is a daunting one, fraught with worries about what it is that I wish to do, what it is that I am qualified to do, how I can afford to leave clinical medicine, how to break into a new field, and many, many others. Nevertheless, a conversation with my mother the other day added yet one more concern, one more stressor to the list.
Now, as many of you who have or have had mothers in the past know, there is almost nothing in this universe that cannot be made more stressful by a conversation with her. There is something inherently anxiety-producing in getting helpful advice from the woman who bore and raised you. In this case, we were talking quite nicely about day-to-day things when I casually mentioned that I was speaking later that afternoon to my career counselor. There was a pause, and she asked, “Why, honey, are you speaking to a career counselor?”
I sighed, as we had discussed my desire to leave clinical medicine several times in the past.
“She is helping me figure out how to leave the ER, Mom. You know I’ve been wanting to get out of the ER for a while now.”
“Oh, sweetheart. You know you love the ER. You’re just confused right now. Give it time, and you will realize you want to stay there after all.
And then she let drop the phrase that stunned me.
“You just haven’t found the right ER yet.”
It was then that I realized that I had to come out.
No, I am not talking about coming out as gay. I’m talking about telling the people around me, my family and friends, about my life choice to leave clinical medicine. I didn’t realize how my choice would affect them and how they see me. Like telling people about sexual orientation, revealing a dissatisfaction with “being a doctor” can be shocking to people who see you in a certain way. They now have to see you as a person who is unhappy at work, who has other dreams or aspirations other than medicine, and who is not fulfilled in a career that American society has somehow glorified and idolized. Therefore, I need to come out… again.
My mother’s words struck a chord that pulled me back 15 years ago. How many gay men and women have told their parents that they were homosexual only to be told, “You just haven’t found the right girl/boy yet.”
Well, it has been 10 years, and I still haven’t found the right ER. And, Mom, it isn’t that I haven’t tried. Believe me. I have dated around. I have tried small community ERs and large, city ones. I have flirted with urgent care centers. I have tried long-term relationships where I have stayed with one ER for years, and I have experimented with short-term, per diem trysts. None of them have satisfied me. As much as I want it to work out, whenever I am in the ER, I can’t help but fantasize about something else. Something more satisfying. I have to admit that I have desires that the ER cannot satisfy. I need something different, something more.
Now, I’m sure my mother doesn’t want to hear this. Coming out can be difficult not only for the person but also for his or her loved ones. For some reason, becoming a doctor has taken on a certain mystique, sort of like becoming a priest. Once you are a doctor, you are always a doctor, at least in many people’s eyes. Asking those around me, in particular my parents, to alter that perception of me is not easy. I understand that it will take time for my mother to adjust to this new reality. I also understand that this transition may be aided by her two close friends, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
Coming out for a parent also affects how she interacts with people outside of our relationship. One of the time honored perqs of having a physician for a child is bragging about this to your friends who preferably have children who have failed out of beauty school or who have become roadies for the local Grateful Dead cover band. For my mother to confess to her book club that I have decided to leave medicine must be akin to telling them that I am leaving my beautiful, blonde, real-estate agent wife and 3 adorable children for a drag queen named Miss Kitty Litter. I can hear the conversation now:
“Mimi, how is that doctor son of yours doing?”
There is an awkward pause.
“Well,” Mom hesitantly begins. “He has decided to leave medicine.”
There is a shocked silence. But now that the confession has been uttered the dam has broken, and she tells all.
“He says he doesn’t feel happy as a doctor. He wants to quit and become… Oh, I don’t know, a… a…”
“A marine biologist!”
There are gasps of horror all around. Chardonnay is spilled on dog eared copies of “The Bridges of Madison County.” Finally, someone takes my mother’s hand and whispers..
“Don’t worry, Mimi. Don’t worry. I’m sure it is only a phase.”
And with that the coming out comparison is complete.
So, with my career transition in its beginning phases, I have come to understand that this decision doesn’t just affect me. It is something that touches my family, my friends, and my spouse. It is something that, while necessary, is a life-changing event for not only me, but for those who care about me. Nevertheless, I will forge on. I know that, no matter how difficult it may be, this change is for the good and that I, and those around me, will be the better for it. It is, therefore, with confidence and no small amount of pride that I proclaim:
“I’m here! I want to change my career! Get used to it!”
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