Guest Blog: Career Transition Stage 1 – Telling Mom

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your mother is wathching you pixabay

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 what?”

“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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11 Comments

  1. Louise D Turkula, MD on April 19, 2012 at 7:22 am

    I found the transition to be far more difficult than I had thought. As you said, it is an identity issue. People don’t know what to call you anymore. I had shared my thoughts off and on in the OR and at home, but these remarks were not taken seriously. I had the decision made for me though when I developed rheumatoid arthritis and was unable to wield a scalpel anymore. So, not only did I leave my practice, but I was “sick”. I was suddenly treated as a patient, not a person, least of all like a doctor. No one “could believe” i wasn’t going to practice anymore.
    That was 10 years ago. Once my treatments were stabilized–I was very ill–I pursued my avocations of sculpting and raising horses.
    People now are surprised to learn I am a doctor but the knowledge and identity never really leaves me, and I have had the privilege of being able to keep up my license with CMEs and be a “go to” person for those who are my friends. I never treat or give advice, but I help explain things. I love my much simplified life. I keep in touch with colleagues, I read medical journals, though now I read so many other things I never had time for!

  2. AJ on April 19, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Excellent, heartfelt article– I empathize with you and appreciate that you took the initiative to put your ordeal into words to educate. Maybe authorship is in yr future? –AJ

  3. Bill Dueease on April 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Very well written expose of the real and powerful pressures placed upon children by parents to fulfill the career dreams of the parents first. Your story sounds so similar to that of one of our clients (We will call him Sam) but with one major twist. Sam received all of the same pressures from his parents, especially his mother to become a medical doctor, but for a number of reasons, Sam chose not to complete medical training. He became a lawyer instead and chose to specialize in suing doctors and hospitals for malpractice and such. He was very intent, even angry at bringing down doctors. Because of his intensity, he became very good and won lots of money. But he led a miserable life as a sole practitioner, and always fighting, with few friends. He too had been dreaming of leaving the legal profession, to change his unhappy life, and at age 52 posed the possibility to his mother that he would seek another career. Her response was quick, pointed, and devastating to him. She said “Oh goodie, now we will finally have a doctor in the family.” She would not let go!

    Luckily, he came to our career-coaching group and when his coach asked him what he loved, he came alive and human again describing his deep passions for sailing. When his coach then asked him how he could convert his passion for sailing into a new career, he went on in detail how he would buy a sailing school in the Caribbean he had been watching for years and how he would captain his own large sailboat for personal charters throughout the islands. He had been organizing his dream life for over 10 years. Then when his coach asked the next question he was flabbergasted. She asked him, “ So what’s keeping you from your dream?” After finally answering “Nothing” he decided to do it. He flew to the Caribbean Island the next day, bought the sailing school, bought a piece of land for his house, returned home, closed his legal practice, and loaded up his sailboat for his personal sail to his new dream life. All he needed was permission to do what he wanted, and her question elicited that permission.

    I hope the Dr. writer has given himself permission to do what he wants and pursue his own dream career.

  4. Julie Quinn on April 21, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    I would love to post this as a guest post on my blog – how can I get in touch with the author to ask? I, too, am a physician who has broken up with clinical medicine and am going through a similar “coming out” process. People just don’t know what to make of a successful physician who willingly walks away! It definitely confounds expectations.

  5. Rob Baginski on May 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I appreciate the comments that have been made. Yes, I am the author of this article. It is indeed based upon a real conversation I had with my mother. For me, my decision to enter medicine was hugely influenced by my parents, although I feel obligated to say that they did not push me overtly. Instead, I was more influenced by the enthusiasm and approval they expressed when I first considered a medical career. While they never made obvious attempts to steer me into medicine, the pride they very publicly felt at having a “doctor in the family” was enough to push an insecure young adult into choosing a path that made them happy.

    Now that I am beginning a career change, they are supportive, although they make no effort to hide that they do not understand my choice. Yes, I have given myself permission to find my true passion. Regardless, while I am already altering my perception of myself from Dr. Baginski (a title that never felt comfortable to me) to something else, I find others are not as willing to let that persona go. It will take time, but it will happen.

    By the way, my mother would be unhappy with the way I have portrayed her and her drinking habits. I must admit that I have altered facts about her alcohol use for comic effect. In truth, she does not drink wine. She drinks Jack Daniels…straight up.

  6. Amy on August 29, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Hi Rob,
    Schema therapy might help you and your mother.
    Amy

    • Heather Fork on September 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Hello Amy,

      Thank you for your comment. I am not familiar with Schema therapy and do not necessarily think that the author of this blog was looking for any help regarding his relationship with his mother, but for those who may be interested I have posted a brief description I copied from the internet on Schema therapy.

      “Schema therapy is an innovative psychotherapy developed by Dr. Jeffrey Young for personality disorders, chronic depression, and other difficult individual and couples problems. Schema therapy integrates elements of cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, object relations, and gestalt therapy into one unified, systematic approach to treatment. Schema therapy has recently been blended with mindfulness meditation for clients who want to add a spiritual dimension to their lives.” This was copied from the http://www.schermatherapy.com site.

      Since I do not know anything about this type of therapy, I am not endorsing it or recommending it, but since you mentioned it, wanted to provide some information here.

      Thank you for your interest Amy.

      Heather

      • Amy on September 24, 2012 at 9:33 pm

        Hello Heather,

        Thank you for posting that information. My understanding was that schema therapy can be used to help people make the changes in their life they want to, if they can stick with it. A Dr. Arnoud Arntz did a study in Holland about six years ago. On the mentalhelp.net website, I heard Dr. Young say that he thought many people could benefit from learning schema therapy techniques. This is the link to that interview. http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=28617&cn=91

        Amy

        • Heather Fork on September 24, 2012 at 9:50 pm

          Thank you Amy for mentioning this additional piece of information for those who may be interested.

  7. Fundraising Strategies on December 30, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Career transition is a process. People will still see you as a doctor for some time but they are going to get used of not seeing you as such in the long run. I’m sure it’ll get to that. Meantime, just do whatever you love doing and may you find true happiness in your new chosen career. Good luck to you and more power!

    Fundraising Strategies

    • Heather Fork on December 30, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      Thank you kindly for your encouraging and positive response!

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