September 20, 2019

Leaving Medicine – Danielle’s Story

stethascope pixabay

Dear readers, for this blog edition one of my clients shares her career transition story with you.  This post is longer than usual, but there is so much here of value that I have posted the piece in its entirety.  Down the road we will check in with Danielle to see how she is doing in her new career.  Comments are welcome. 

“Hello.  My name is Danielle and I am a recovering Primary Care physician.   After two years of post- baccalaureate education, four years of medical school, three years of residency and four years of clinical practice, I found myself in a very desperate, empty place devoid of enjoyment, purpose and happiness and I knew I needed to fix it.  I hung up my stethoscope in search of a saner, fulfilled life.

At this point, I have transitioned out of clinical medicine and thought I would translate my journey into steps.  They are not successive steps, but more of an outline of the necessary tasks to complete my “recovery.”  Hopefully, some of you will identify with pieces (or all) of what I am saying.  When I started this process, I felt extremely trapped, isolated and ashamed.  I hope that you will feel a sense of comfort in my words if you are in a similar place in your life.

My 10 steps to recovery (still in progress):

    1. I had to get honest about WHY I was so unhappy at work. How did it come to pass that I had worked so hard to be in a career that made me so miserable?  I had reached the pinnacle of Mount Everest and felt like I had descended into hell.  Why was I so unhappy?  Well, for starters, I felt like I worked 24 hours per day, 7 days per weekMy actual clinical hours amounted to about 55 hours, but I could not leave work at work.  I would continually think about my patients, about what was going on, how I could fix it, what I could do as a next step.  It was as if I was walking thru life with a clinical cloud around my head.  There was no shut off valve and I felt suffocated.  Life was a process of moving from one fire to the next and never having enough time to fully extinguish any of them.  Fall behind for one second in any of the day’s tasks, and I paid for it exponentially.  My life was a finely placed house of cards.  If one card was slightly askew, the house collapsed.  It was go, go and go faster.  I was a “part-time” doctor by hours.  I was paid for 26 “patient care hours” per week, but had to work 55 hours per week to stay afloat.  I started getting up at 4:30 in the morning to work electronically and remotely on the day’s appointments in an attempt actually be “on time.”  Nothing like staring at a computer screen at o-dark-early trying to find the date of your 10:00 patient’s last colonoscopy buried in a torrent of scanned documents.  I would work from 4:30-7:00, then put on my mommy hat and get my daughter clothed, combed, teeth brushed and top off the morning’s fun with nothing more than a Pop Tart in her belly.  I would wait for the school bus with blood in my eyes.  If it was 2 minutes late, it was less time I had to get to work.  Once at work, I would drink from the fire hose of primary care.  Endless streams of patients with “lists” of complaints and 6 chronic problems to address in 15 minutes.  Don’t get me started on prior authorizations, writing scripts for OTC medications for FSA accounts, endless lab and radiology results and cap that off with the 20+ phone calls per day with various complaints ranging from “I’m not better after 12 hours on my antibiotic” to “I don’t want to come in, so can you just treat my unilateral weakness and facial droop over the phone?”  Let me also give a shout out to the legal profession here.  I have been “served” legal papers twice.  The knock on the exam room door saying “you have someone here to see you and it is important” and the explanation that there is a process server waiting behind the counter probably shaved 20 years off of my life.  In both instances, it was for a custody case!  That walk from the exam room to the front desk, opening the envelope- it was like waiting to hear my execution date.  Working at a pace that is superhuman, dealing with the tiniest of details that could kill someone if one mistake is made with the constant threat that if you are human and actually err, you will pay dearly for it left me intimidated and constantly fearful.
  • I had to get honest about why I was so unhappy with myself.  On a deeper level, I was not the person, wife or mother I wanted to be.  I spent my days in a constant state of rush, rush, rush never smelling the proverbial roses. I never had time to do anything for myself and could barely manage to provide basic care for my daughter.  As for being a wife, I was just a moody cow most days. I neglected my own needs routinely.  My last physical and blood work was 1999.  My hair got professional attention approximately once per year.  Exercise?  What the hell was that?  I would make half-hearted attempts to play with my daughter all the while thinking about a patient’s illness and what I could have done differently, what I should do now, who I should consult, etc, etc, etc, and it felt so dishonest.  I could never be “present.”  When I was at home, my brain stayed at the office.  When I was at work, I struggled to go quickly so I might have a chance of getting home at a reasonable hour to be “present.”  I ignored hurts or boo- boos because they certainly paled in comparison to the flesh wound I saw at the office.  My poor husband could not be spared my time to be taken to the ER for a large laceration.  Instead, I only had the energy to sew him up at the kitchen table with expired and ineffective lidocaine.  At 103 degrees, with my husband out of town, I pumped my child full of Tylenol and prayed not to hear from the school nurse, that the typical 4 hour acetaminophen duration would somehow bring me the 12 hours I needed to cover for the school day and of course, after-care.  I routinely sacrificed her comfort, her time with Mama so that I could go take care of other (sometimes less) sick people.  I sacrificed everything to go to work, to be a doctor, to keep myself on this trajectory to hell and I hated myself for it.
  • I had to figure out how I ended up here.  How did I end up in medical school anyway?  Was it because medicine enthralled me?  Was it because I saw someone I love get very sick and felt powerless?  Was it because I “wanted to help people?” No, no and no. I examined my initial motives.  This was a very telling bit of information once I was willing to be frank and honest with myself.  I came to the conclusion that it was a perfect coalescence of poor self- image, the brain power to accomplish the task and a bank willing to lend me enough money to feed a starving nation.  On the first element, let me just say that I came by this honestly.  I was taught that I was “not enough” at a very early age.  I will refrain from pointing fingers, because this is my journey and responsibility now, but my childhood left a lot to be desired.  It was filled with insecurities, neglect, intermittent showing of love for accomplishments and overall inconsistency in parenting.  Yes, I have been to this place and I have the T-shirt and the therapist to prove it.  The answer to this question for me was that I desperately wanted approval, respect and love.  I wanted someone to be proud of me.  Ouch.  Not the best reasons to commit to years and years of self-sacrifice and delayed gratification.
  • I had to find help.  On a dark fall morning at 4:00 am, I could stand myself no longer.  I was miserable.  I found no happiness in the impending sunrise, in my daughter’s smile, in the love of my husband.  On a daily basis, I vacillated between tearfulness and anger.  I cry now for this person.  She hurt so deeply and felt completely alone.  I wish the person I have become now could travel back in time and hug her.  In desperation, I typed “non-clinical medical jobs” and sent it out into the Google abyss.  What a Google search returned to my laptop that morning was going to be a key ingredient in the recipe for my salvation.  I found Doctor’s Crossing and Heather Fork, M.D.  Thinking back on this now, I had cast a desperate message in a bottle out to sea and it returned to me filled with the answers, like balm for my burnt soul.  I also started seeing a therapist to address the self-esteem issues that were the root of my discontent and current station in life.
  • I had to hatch an escape plan.  So, In order to get out of my current state of misery, I had to find a way out.  The bills would still find their way to my mailbox, so I needed to find some way to make enough money to live.  Frankly, I didn’t know what was out there.  I thought about a gig as a Wal-Mart greeter, but the pay was not quite enough.  I knew I would not last much longer in primary care without a major breakdown, but I didn’t know (and still don’t) what my “dream job” would be.  In working with Heather, I learned of a vast number of options for non-clinical jobs.  I interviewed in November 2011 for a position reviewing medical records and got the job.  I was not sure it would be my “forever job,” but it certainly would pay the bills and keep my medical muscles flexed.  It would also allow me to work for 24 hours per week for roughly the same salary I made working 55.  And, I can do it in my pajamas.  In order to escape before knowing my “true calling,” I had to find a bridge position.  This is mine and so far, it is working out swimmingly.
  • I had to tell my family and friends.   I remember a friend referencing my “glamorous life” and I suppose this is how it might look to others being a doctor and all.  But, how glamorous is a prostate exam?  That about sums it up for me.  For my parents, friends and acquaintances, it was not so easy to understand.  Having to explain your misery just makes you sound like a whiner.  My approach to telling my parents went a little something like this:  “I’m going to live for myself now.”  My father took it like a trooper and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, mainly because he’s at a point in his life where he wished he had worked less and spent more time with his family.  My mother has still not come to terms with my decision.  She mainly deals with it by ignoring it (picture fingers in ears saying “la, la, la, la…”).  Nevertheless, I have made it clear that this is my story and now I am the author.  As for friends, the important ones accepted this in stride and have been incredibly encouraging.  My medical friends are living vicariously through me as the discontent with medicine is more widespread than I had suspected.  My husband could not have been any more supportive in this process, but that is mainly because he saw the day in and day out carnage.  Let me also say a word about what people suspect about a doctor leaving medicine. Can you guess?  Yes, they assume you have been sued.  I have run into this more times than I care to admit. I still feel compelled to let people know that this is not the case, but I’m leaning toward telling them to kiss off.  In truth, the only respect I need at this point is self-respect and I am caring less and less about what other people suspect or think of me.
  • I had to tell my employer.  Not so easy in a small practice setting.   have the deepest respect for the practice partners that employed me. They took me right from residency and showed me the ropes.  They invested a fair bit of time in my career and I felt like I was letting them down. As a first step, I asked to have a meeting with them. I told them I was “tired” and that I didn’t know how much longer I could last. Because they are also “tired,” they understood and I received absolutely no criticism. In fact, they immediately suggested ways to lessen my load. However, the fact remained that I was quite done and I gracefully declined. I also told them that I knew it would take months and months to find my replacement and that I would hang on as long as I could. I did not want to repay their kindnesses by darting out the door with 3 months notice (as is required by my contract). I knew that it took 1.5 years to find the last practitioner, so I felt compelled to give as much notice as possible. They took my cue and immediately started searching. It took 7 months, but they found a doctor to replace me.  They frequently express their gratitude for my long period of notice. I still speak with them occasionally and let’s just say, the bridge is not burned. I have been offered an opportunity to return at a moment’s notice should I desire. Unlikely, but very flattering.
  • I had to tell my patients.  I expected patients to respond with anger. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My script went a little something like this. “I have something to tell you.  It is not easy to say this, but I am leaving the practice.” There were shocked, jaw-dropping faces on the other end of those sentences.  It was hard to utter these words, but it got easier from this point in the conversation. I then went on to say that unfortunately, the hours and commitment were not sustainable for me in the setting of trying to raise my family. I spoke of how I loved being a doctor, but right now, while my 5-year old still likes me, I want to spend time with her. Out of the hundreds of patients I had this conversation with, only 3 responded poorly (and I could have predicted it ahead of time, so I was prepared). Being honest, but positive was my approach. I did not say, “I hate this place” or “I’m just so overworked” or “Patient demands stress me to the hilt.” I just said how I found it incompatible to be a family practice doctor and raise a healthy family. More times than not, patients said “Good for you!” “Wow!  Fantastic!” or “I’m so happy for you!” and I think they genuinely meant it. By the time I started telling patients, the new doctor was hired, but not working for several months.  I was, however, able to tell patients a bit about him and that seemed to allay some fears of the unknown. As time marched on, my office was flooded with gifts, flowers, cards and well-wishers just stopping by for a hug. I thought I had done a good job for my patients, but they really proved it for me in the end. In sum, I left on the highest cloud. My patients were wonderful!
  • I have to keep working on my sanity.  Just because I have removed a major stressor does not mean I am an inherently different person. I am still wired to be anxious, to delay gratification, to look for the catastrophe in any situation. But, I am trying to address these things with therapy and my continued relationship with Heather. I am reading books on many religions, I am getting my hair done, I have seen a physician and I am going for a monthly massage. I am trying to be present in most interactions with my daughter. I am trying to be a less distracted and moody wife. I find moments of progress here and there. For instance, I saw an unmade bed yesterday and thought it looked like a perfect trampoline and asked my daughter to join me.  The previous me would have seen another task on the “to do” list. Now, I have some room to breathe and dream.  Overall, the changes are great, but I am still me and there are deeply seated things that did not vanish the moment I hung up my stethoscope.  I am a work in progress.
  • I am finding my passion.  All things told, I should have gone to art school. I am exceedingly creative and I LOVE to make something from nothing. Give me an old dingy wall, a couple tubes of paint and two hours and you will have a mural. Give me an ugly table and some broken tile, and you will have a mosaic masterpiece. Creativity for me comes in quiet times though. So, I am creating quiet and letting the passion bubble to the surface. I heard once that an artist is the inner child that survived.  She’s in there and I am searching for her every day.  If I let my mind wander, I think about opening a do-it-yourself art studio. I also make soap as a hobby, so maybe I will get a soap company off the ground. We’ll see. But, whatever I do, it will be with motives that represent my needs and desires, not those of others.

There was a fair bit of shame for me in this process initially. I also felt exceedingly trapped.  Please know that new career possibilities are out there and that you are not damaged goods if you leave clinical medicine.  In writing this piece, I hope that you will find some comfort in knowing that you are not alone, that there is nothing shameful about leaving clinical medicine and it is completely possible to do so.  It is YOUR life and it is short.  Be proud of what you have accomplished and equally proud of yourself for realizing that there might be something else out there for you.  The only shame in medicine is staying when your mind, body and soul want to be elsewhere.

Acknowledgements:

My deepest gratitude to my husband for loving me through the bad, very bad and down-right ugly times even when I made it impossible, to my daughter for forgiving my shortcomings and loving me blindly and without reservation and to Heather Fork M.D. for shining the light so I could finally see myself and my potential. ” 

Comments

  1. Danielle- thank you for sharing your story! I’m at various places in your 10 steps with varying levels of excitement and nerve-wracking anxiety. Being in the radiology field, I can sense the “you’ve got the cushiest job in medicine, what the hell are you complaining about?” vibe from people. Of course the reality is that I’m bored to tears with the repetitiveness of practice and the feeling that at 39 years old, things are now as good as they are ever going to get. And being looked at by the hospital and the government as less of a physician and more of a Biological Revenue Generating Unit doesn’t really liberate my soul either. So I don’t really share what I’m going through except with trusted friends (who are accountants or engineers and have NOTHING to do with medicine).

    So you are definitely not alone. Keep at it and I sincerely hope you find your passion and can get to escape velocity to get off Planet Medical.

  2. Jane Zendarski, D.O. says:

    Danielle,
    Thank you for sharing. I’m a 55 year old family practice doctor who is working with Heather also. I was a physician assistant before I became a doctor. I’m not sure what I’m going to do but I appreciate you sharing your struggle.
    Jane

    • What do you recommend from your experience? MD/DO or PA?

      • Mary Smith says:

        Wow, this is so amazing to read. I am 53 yo who took a sabbatical from my career as a PA in medicine to care for my mom who was terminally ill. I had every intention of returning to practice but was hit hard by 2 things-1.) Watching the effects of her care as her providers bought into the idea of being Biological Revenue Generating Units 2.) Stepping back into a position while caring for her and chastised for only seeing 28 hospitalized patients instead of 35 to 40! I have not gone back and can not at this point- 3 years later. It saddens me to not have the patient interactions. I have taken a year to reassess life and work and balance of the two. Thanks for a great article.

  3. I just went through the same thing. I left my job after 10 years as a very busy general surgeon. It was the best thingI have ever done!

    • So nice to read this story and this comment. I just left my job after 16 years as an overworked general surgeon. I want to be present for myself and my kids. Too early to know yet if its the best or worst thing!

      • Heather Fork says:

        Wow! You made a big leap for yourself! Good for you. We can never get time back for what we miss out on in relationships. It is completely understandable that you want quality time with your kids and for yourself. I wish for you that this turns out to be the best decision you’ve made! Let us know!

  4. What an inspiring story! Is it ever a concern to have a “bridge” job like that on your resume? Congratulations on figuring that all out. So brave!

  5. Thank you all for your comments! I still find tremendous comfort in knowing others share similar sentiments.

    To Chris: You are so much more than a Revenue Generating Unit! No matter how “cushy” Radiology may be, if it leaves you with an empty, passionless feeling, it may be to “get off Planet Medical” as you said. Some questions I’m working on are: What I would do if money was not an issue? What things fulfill me? What makes me smile? What makes me laugh? What can’t I wait to do? What was my favorite thing to do when I was a kid? When was I happiest in life and what things defined that time? Answers to these questions are helping me find my passion and make life full of possibilities. I no longer have that feeling that “this is as good as it’s going to get” because I am dreaming again. I am hoping you find liberation for your soul and am glad you have a few trusted friends to share your thoughts with. You can add me to the list as well, because I truly “get it.”

    To Jane: Heather will help sort you out! She is AMAZING at helping folks find their direction. I know from personal experience how difficult Family Practice is, so I feel your pain. Just know that there are a ton of possibilities and that you are NOT trapped. I can’t tell you how much easier my days were when I knew I was leaving. I didn’t quite know what I was going to do yet, but it didn’t matter. I was just so DONE. Not sure where you are in the spectrum, but you are definitely NOT alone and you are in good hands!

    To Michelle: CONGRATS!!!!! Fantastic!!!! What are you up to now? Have you found your passion or dream job? I would love to hear from you.

    To Emily: Thank you for the compliment! I don’t always feel brave, so thanks for the vote of confidence! As for the bridge position hurting a resume, I don’t think so. My feeling is this: If a potential employer did not consider me because I reviewed medical records for a few years, then, I don’t think I would want to work for them anyway. Life happens, detours come up. I simply consider this a diversification of my portfolio and anyone with a problem with that is not worthy of my services.

  6. Danielle,

    A medical friend (MD) of mine shared your article with me. All I can say is WOW and congratulations! I’m not in the medical field, but I saw myself in your story, as I’m sure many others have and I’ve been told that your article is making the rounds, many of my medical friends are taking a look at your story and talking about what they need to do what’s next? Especially timely and helpful for those that have been in the field for 20 + years and are feeling burned out.

    Thank you for having the courage and conviction to take a bridge job, to put your daughter and marriage first, and most of all for writing about your struggle and helping MANY other people. Major Kudos to you and best of luck and blessings as you go forward into your future!

  7. Danielle,
    Your writings resonated with me, especially the heart felt look at why you were so unhappy with work, self, how you got there, and how you are still working on your sanity and finding your passion. I share all those feelings. One year ago, I left 20+ years of corporate family practice medicine while juggling being the primary caretaker of two children (one with special needs), and started my own concierge practice. I sought the help of a life coach a few months later. Though I am using a different life coach, I would certainly recommend to others reading this that a good life coach can be indispensable.

    The hardest part for me has been realizing that my anxiety and inner critic along with outer pressure were the driving forces of my day for so long. Just because the corporate outer pressure isn’t there has not yet resulted in anxiety/inner critic significantly lessening … and to some degree the anxiety of uncertainty went up. I do have a better relationship with all the different parts of me though, and that has helped.

    I’m still not sure this is the right position for me, but I am moving in a positive direction. While it can often feel like a mythical descent to the depths of my soul, I am learning alot about faith that I will emerge (and am emerging) into a much better me. I wish you, and others, all the best. This move is indeed hard, but embracing life is well worth it!

  8. Thank you for your comments, Lynn and Jeff! It really means a lot to me that you both took the time to post!
    To Lynn: Thank you so much for the compliments! I have mostly felt scared in this process, but I am seeing courage in spots as well. I am elated that your friends have found my post useful. I wrote this so that other folks may be spared some of the feelings of isolation that I initially felt. I am glad that they have found some comfort and direction. Thank you for the kudos and blessings! Your friends are in my thoughts and if they would like to post, I promise to respond.

    To Jeff: I hear your pain and I have felt similar feelings as well. You are not alone and it is FANTASTIC that you are working with a coach. They really do have an uncanny way of breaking down self-destructive patterns and rebuilding positive ones, don’t they? Coaches are an amazing group of professionals! I cannot imagine how busy you are with a concierge practice and your caretaking responsibilities. No wonder you feel anxious sometimes! The only respite from anxiety that I have found thus far is dreaming. When I allow myself to consider the possibilities, to really consult my inner-self about what makes me happy, to consider what excites me, I find an escape from anxiety. Dreaming and anxiety are incompatible for me. Thus, I am trying to start little dream threads in my brain and go in a positive direction rather than summon the demons of “what if” thinking that always kick-off the downward anxiety spiral for me. Hopefully, this will point me in the direction of my passion. It is a daily challenge, but each day gets a little easier. I wish you the best and thank you so much for your post! Keep the faith! You will emerge on the other side of this time with hard-earned wisdom and inner peace!

  9. Danielle,

    I’ve read your story three times since yesterday — once together with my wife — and I’ve learned more from it each time. You helped me a great deal, and I really appreciate it. Best wishes to you.

    Sincerely,

    Neil

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Neil,

      Thank you kindly for your comment for Danielle. I am so glad that her story is helpful to you. Many doctors have remarked to me how much they identify with her story and feel like it captured a lot of what they are experiencing. It is unfortunate that the practice of medicine is becoming increasingly unsatisfying, but one of the ways to begin to change this trend is for more physicians to speak out and let the truth be known. Much needs to be done to address the problems, and this is start. Thank you again for lending your voice.

  10. Dear Danielle,

    I thank you for allowing me to read this deeply personal account of how you came to your decision to move away from practicing as a doctor.

    I haven’t felt so lost as I do now, and reading your article, I too resonated with it. Being single, without a family, and only 3 years out of medical school, I am facing a lot of regret about my decisions. Medicine was a second degree, (unusual for UK medics), and at this point in my life, there is a lot of self-doubt, but mostly a tremendous amount of unhappiness.

    The worst part of this, is having to explain it to others, and I agree about different reactions from parents. It feels almost as though a crushing weight upon the chest, to try to move out of medicine or forward into another direction.

    The confusion is not knowing who to talk to and where to turn. The nature of the job is such that I feel as though I almost secretly sabotaged my own decision to specialise in an area that I don’t want to really specialise in. Like that scene in Finding Nemo, hiding in the coral before really taking that leap into the apparent void of deep blue scary sea.

    Thank you for your words, I too think that I will be re-reading them and reflecting on my own decisions in the next few months.

    Mary

    • Heather Fork says:

      Dear Mary,

      Thank you very much for your candid response to Danielle’s post. I am glad her story is helpful to you. Please know than many physicians feel as you do – lost, afraid to let others know about how they are feeling, and confused. Medicine can feel like a trap because we are supposed to be happy about being in this profession, but for some it just isn’t the right fit. You are the only one who can know what is best for you, and there need not be guilt or shame about a decision to leave medicine. Since only you live your life, if you are not happy, you certainly don’t want to stay in something to avoid disappointing others. That is really about them, not you. It never really works and creates a lot of suffering. We each have gifts we are meant to use professionally, and when you are using them in the way that is ideal for you, you will thrive and you will offer more to the world than if you are forcing yourself to make something work. Have courage Mary. Take time to listen to yourself, trust that you will find your way, and please keep in touch. Heather

  11. Hi Danielle,

    I’m an ER doctor who is phasing out of medicine, just working part-time now. There is so much similairty in our stories. I am also an artist/creative by nature. I’m writing/singing/performing music and studying fashion design these days. I would love to hear more about your journey through finding your artistic self. Life is really all about the process of discovering who you really are.

    seema9000@yahoo.com

    Thank you for being brave and sharing your story,

    ~Seema

  12. Hi Seema! Thanks for your post. I couldn’t agree more that life is truly just about finding out who you really are. I’m working on that everyday. I wish I was musically talented like you! I tried guitar lessons for a year and can play the equivalent of Mary had a Little Lamb! I always envy folks who can sing and play! Would love to hear your music. Any links you can share?

    I guess that I am close to 2 years out of clinical medicine. It feels great for me. I have more time to focus on the things that matter most to me. Painting and arts and crafts projects with my kiddo seem to be my current focus. I’m getting ready to paint a mural in my bedroom and keep trying to nail down the details in my head.

    Life is just a whole lot more fun (and manageable) for me. Hopefully, your transition will be smooth. The ED is a very hectic place! Best of luck to you, Seema. Sounds like you’re figuring things out too!

    -Danielle

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this, I am in tears with relief and understanding. I have 2 days left as a primary care physician in clinical practice and really have no idea where to turn after that. I have spent 10 years thinking I should plan my way out into a new career but really been too exhausted to do it with any sustained action. However I too look at my fast growing kids and lovely and long suffering husband and decided that we are better being broke and selling up with a happy mum and wife, than the person I am now– as my work is making everyone suffer. I work 12 hour days and have 40 to 60 face to face consults a day let alone all the other decisions on results and letters that pour in. I feel battle worn and beyond changing the system from the inside but I have to recognise that it is a personal decision not a whinge “against the system” as I think I am just not meant to do what I am doing. I also know it isn’t just shame that kept me there– it is love and compassion too, I love my patients and have deep respect for my colleagues. I do wonder who else is going to take seriously some of my neediest patients medical problems when they can’t express themselves and risk being brushed aside if someone doesn’t take the time to really listen. But I did what I could and I need a break now. I want to say a huge thanks for your article because it makes me realise why this is called recovery and perhaps I need to stop worrying about what to do next and just take a bit of time to heal whatever the financial cost of that.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Jess, Thank you very much for writing this poignant and heartfelt response to Danielle’s story. You sound like a very caring person and a devoted physician. You are so right to acknowledge that you need a break. It’s hard to determine what is best when the burnout is so high. Take good care of yourself; give yourself time to sort things out and clarity will come. Please feel free to update us on your progress. All the best to you, Heather

  14. After reading your article,im relieved as there are people out there who think as i do.Im not a very old graduate,just recently cleared my post grad exam to enter Medicine as a resident,,but just after few weeks of work i realized that this was not for me,there wasn’t a single day when i wolud go happily and content at work,i didnt felt satisfied with what i was doing at all…a if i was forced t to do a job,despite the fact i choose it myself,,diagnosing ilnesses,prescription of drugs,procedures and than following them,i had lost interest in all.Initially i thought may be its begining ill feel better,but nothing changed and i felt suffocted.That’s when i gave up,i could no longer do a job just to impress family and friends,who would think of me as a genius!no point in wasting my life in doing a job which was making my life miserable rather than making me feel accomplashied.It was so hard to convince my family as medicne is not my thing,i knew that people are gona call me a quitter and looser but i could no long bear the traumatising suffocation i felt.It was really hard,it still is if i did the right thing?but now i’m planning for psychiatry or may be public health but definetaly not surgery or medicine.People say you are wasting your time,but im not bothered,as far as im learning something im not loosing anything.Thanks alot for your article.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Sanam, Your post will be inspiring to others who feel as you do that they cannot continue in work that makes them miserable just to please others. You have a good attitude in seeing that if you continue to learn and grow, you are not losing anything, even if you chose a new path. Whatever you end up doing, you will be most successful and helpful to others if your work is truly something you enjoy. I wish you all the best in finding your way – thank you very much for reading and responding to Danielle’s story.

    • h.bilal says:

      same thing happened with me
      I entered medicine residency but in few weeks i realized that im not happy with it. I still think that i could go medicine but im not satisfied with clinical medicine. I got very upset n depressed.
      Everyone said you have got highest merit why are you leaving medicine.
      But i think Im not one of those who would still do it while remaining unhappy.So i quit medicine and will do patho insha ALLAH

      • Heather Fork says:

        Thank you very much for reading and commenting. It is very disheartening to realize your chosen path is not what you thought it would be.Everyone usually does urge you to continue, so it can be hard to hear your own voice if it is telling you something different. I think it would be good if in medical school, they would help students objectively evaluate if this was really the right fit for them. But they have a vested interest in graduating as many students as possible. I was not entirely sure fro your message, did you decide to do a pathology residency?

  15. Hi Danielle,

    I cried while reading your article…It is really painful to let go of something we have worked hard for( i was board certified internist); and i constantly worry for our patients to the expense of our physical & emotional well being — We really have to take a step back. I care for my patients, i admire my colleagues hard work, and the constant learning stimulating….It is just now i keep on praying for guidance where a nonclinical medical path leads me.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Gladys, you are certainly not the first person to have that response to Danielle’s story. Many physicians tell me how much they identified with what she wrote and felt like they were reading about themselves. The state of medicine is indeed especially challenging right now as the physician is getting lost in the push and pull of all the changes. Most doctors by nature try to cope as best they can and take on the added burdens in silence. However, we are a tipping point and more and more doctors are trying to find a exit door. A major problem is the difficulty in finding a collective voice and platform to address what is not working in medicine and advocate for the role of the physician. The system is in incredible flux and hopefully in time there will be improvements that not only work for patients and hospitals, but support the physician. I wish you all the best on your path and thank you for your comments.

  16. As a hospitalist, I feel I have a perpetual target on my back.with arrows coming at me from every side. From administrators, patients, specialist, lawyers, CMS, Nurse, Case Managers , EHR, etc. Non doctors cannot imagine the emotional turmoil of being one.It likely will only get worse with the coming years. Thank you Danielle for sharing.

    • Heather Fork says:

      James, thank for reading Danielle’s blog and commenting. Your description of feeling like you have a target on your back is something I have heard from other doctors – in those exact words. You’re right in pointing out the difficulty for others to know what it feels like to be a physician today. One doctor told me that she felt like a scarecrow and everyone was plucking out all her stuffing. It’s hard to say when things will get better, but I do believe it is possible. The pendulum is swinging. At some point, it has to move to value the importance of preserving the health (mental, emotional and physical) of those who are caring for the health of others. Right now this is a sad paradox, in how unhealthy many doctors are due to their work stress. Good luck to you. I hope things improve for you.

  17. Peggy Messaris says:

    I just found this article by chance. I was a patient of Danielle’s, and I can tell you that she has been the one doctor that I completely respected. unfortunately, I did not get the farewell information and found out she was gone when I returned for my annual physical. I am glad she is making some powerful choices in her life. As a doctor, she was just great, caring, kind, and compassionate. One of our last conversations was when I was in the hospital, she solved a medical mystery that I think I had struggled with for years that was just getting worse. I found the article because I was actually looking around the internet to see if she was practicing medicine in the area before I have to schedule my annual physical. Many blessing to her as she continues to take control of her life. I only hope to find a physician like her again some day.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Thank you Peggy for your terrific words of support for Danielle. I am so glad to hear that you had an excellent experience with her as your physician. She was an incredible doctor who truly cared deeply about her patients and went above and beyond to help them. I shared with her your kind words and well wishes. All the best to you. Heather

  18. Danielle,

    Thank you for this amazing article. You have no idea how much it has resonated with me. I just wish I had the courage to do what you have done with your career. I am a recently graduated dentist and only a couple months into practice with the government of my country. I started off enjoying my job thoroughly but recently I just realized that I am not cut out for this job. I am constantly worrying for my patients, wondering if I did the best for them and dreading the fact that one of them might come back with a problem with the treatment. I am always anxious, worried and can never sleep peacefully at night.

    This feelings come at a very early stage of my practice, how am I going to complete this 2 years of compulsory service I wonder? Even if I plan to leave, what do I do? I dont seem to have my other skills. How will I pay my bills? All these unanswered questions are killing me! That said, I am so glad to know that there are so many out there who are exactly like me and your article definitely proves it. I just hope I will eventually end up doing the right thing for myself. Thnk you again.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Rachel, thank you for sharing how Danielle’s story was helpful for you and letting us know what you are struggling with professionally. Your experience with the anxiety, the “what if” thinking and the worrying is something that I hear about A LOT from physicians, especially women. It is actually pretty common in those who go into medicine and I suspect dentistry as well, as the same personality traits that make doctors good at what they do – also make them prone to compulsive thinking and worrying. There are definitely ways to work with these tendencies and lessen the anxiety. You don’t have to be suffering as you are. Please keep in touch and let us know how your are doing. Heather

  19. dr sohil patel says:

    hello every one,
    i am a doctor in india, just finished the graduation.
    i am like WOW, for like next half hour i didnt understand what i just read. how can it be so? doctors all over the world dream of being internist in america as it is the best medical system available on the planet earth. its widely accepted concept that working environment and facilities and level of satisfaction of being a doctor are the best in america. there are so many doctors out there who would consider that they found the paradise if they get into internist residency program.
    and i must say non-us doctors put TREMENDOUS amount of efforts to get into american medical system. and ok, i understand that not all people can be very happy with profession the chose because at the time of choice they were young and now they can understand that they have other interests as well.
    so should i reconsider my thinking of getting into internal medicine? cause i must say its long and very tough path for non-us doctor to get into american residency or there are very few doctors who are unhappy with their profession?
    your responses will be appreciated, thanks.
    sohil.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Sohil, thank you for sending your thoughts all the way from India! It is true that many physicians are experiencing high levels of stress and dissatisfaction in the US and other countries as well. Recent studies attest to physicians reporting at least one symptom of burnout at 45%. Not that long ago, this rate was around 35%. Some of the surgical specialties report higher burnout rates at various times. The practice of medicine is undergoing a lot of changes right now in America, with new government regulations, the widespread implementation of electronic medical records and declining reimbursement, to name just a few factors. While some doctors will leave medicine, and others will combine both clinical and non-clinical careers, the majority of physicians will stay in medicine and many want to. The hope is that over time, adjustments will be made to the system and more attention will be given to physician satisfaction and well-being. As to what you should do, I cannot advise you one way or another, but I would suggest learning more about the current state of medicine here and reflecting on whether or not it seems like something that would work for you. There is a site I came across recently called “Love Medicine Again” which was started by a physician Dr. Starla Fitch. She offers support and advice for burned out physicians. On her site, you can read more about some of the factors affecting physicians today. Good luck to you! Heather

  20. I, too came across this thread because I was looking for Danielle, as she was the best doctor I’ve ever had in the short time I had her. I still talk about her to others and hold others to the high standards of treatment I feel she gave me. I know this thread might be defunct by now, but I wish I could have told her how great she was to me. And in an interesting note- I’ve been a teacher for going on 19 years and have the same feelings about my career as has been described on this website, and by Danielle’s statement above. I find it very interesting and inspiring to hear someone else’s story about how their career- even one that they worked so hard to achieve- is no longer a good fit, and that this is the first step to living a more authentic and beautiful life. I’ll get there someday too. Thank you.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Christa, I so appreciate your taking the time to share your feelings about Danielle and how her story has inspired you. I will make sure she receives your lovely comments and sentiments. It is true that it is not only doctors who are feeling burned out in their careers. The pace of our society and the demands that are often put upon employees can make it challenging to find balance and satisfaction in one’s life. I like how you mentioned taking a first step towards living a more authentic and beautiful life. If we keep the vision of what we want in our mind, and don’t settle for less, we will get there. I like this quote by Martin Luther King, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” All the best to you on your path.

  21. Crystal Blumberg says:

    I was a patient of Danielle’s as well. I discovered this article by surprise while searching to see if Danielle might have returned to practicing. I did receive the chance to tell Danielle how wonderful she was as my doctor. I have never had a doctor like her. It is not a coincidence that many of her previous patients use the words like compassionate and exceptional when describing Dr.Gerry.. She was amazing and always had words of encouragement for me. It is because of her that I learned to hang tough when things were rough And because of that my family finally got answers that we have been looking for for years!! I hope she finds her true passion…she SO deserves it. Could you please pass on that she is missed dearly.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Thank you Crystal for this lovely tribute to Dr. Gerry. I am so glad she was able to help your family find some desperately needed answers. I will certainly pass on your heartfelt message to her. I appreciate your taking the time to share how she made such a difference in your life. All the best to you and your family.

  22. I’ve only just found your article and so glad I did. I am four years postgraduate in the UK and recently left my Anaesthetic training post as I just hated it and couldn’t face doing it for the rest of my life. I’ve now got a 6 month medical post while I figure out what to do next but I’m slowly coming to realise that I think it is the profession generally that I just don’t enjoy. It’s such a struggle to know where to go next. I don’t want us to suffer financially while I figure things out and even with careers advise I still don’t know what I would do if I wasnt a doctor.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Heather,

      Your comment echos something I hear often from physicians. They are in many cases the major breadwinner for the family and don’t have the luxury of taking time off to do a lot of “navel gazing” and figure out a new path. Sometimes it is also hard to determine if it is the practice setting with all of its stresses and demands that is the problem, or whether the practice of medicine is not the right fit. What I have seen doctors do while they try to answer their bigger questions is to find the best clinical scenario possible, ideally one with a positive culture and enough time off to explore non-clinical directions. This gives them the opportunity to network and learn about different areas and even take some courses and attend conferences, etc. It may take some time to answer your questions and find out what path is best for you, but the answers will come. Thank you for your reading and responding!

  23. Hi Danielle,
    I came across your post after searching for “shame” and “physician.” I have been out of specialty training for the past 5 years and have likely been burned out for the majority of my training and practice. I resonate with the above posts that the reason I went into medicine on the surface may have been to help people, but in actuality, the reason may be more likely to get approval and appreciation from others. I see being a physician as so deeply rooted as part of my identity that I can’t imagine what my sense of self would be like not being a clinician. I am lucky that I have been able to make various schedule adjustments to try to make life saner. I find it very hard to say no because I don’t want others (especially referring doctors) to be disappointed in me. I have been struggling with self-worth issues for decades but for some reason they seem to coming to the forefront now. Danielle, you mentioned Brene Brown, and I have listened to her talks repeatedly hoping to get that spark of insight which will allow me to accept myself the way I am. For the past 5 years, I have been working as much as 18 hrs per day. It would sadden me deeply to loose the connections I have with my patients or my staff if I left. I struggle with “impostor syndrome,” wondering if I am good enough or qualified enough and I frequently compare myself to other collegues. Normally I’m a lurker and don’t post anything anywhere, but in the name of shining a light on shame, I wanted to post this to tell you that your post moved me deeply. I am not sure I will stay in medicine or not, but reading your story has given me hope that there is life beyond medicine if I choose to take the leap.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Kash, I appreciate your taking the time to write this personal comment to Danielle on her blog. I can’t tell you how many doctors share this experience of the “imposter syndrome” and have recurring doubts about their abilities. What I have seen is that without exception, these doctors are excellent physicians who care very deeply about their patients and have no concrete reasons to question their competency. They are also more prone to giving too much of themselves and worrying overly about pleasing others. It is possible to change the misperception about self and to set and maintain better boundaries. I am glad you were able to adjust your schedule to have it be better for your. You took a powerful and courageous step in sharing your story and mentioning the feelings of shame. I am very impressed. You are doing exactly the right thing in not letting shame hide in darkness. It cannot survive light and truth. You are a very strong person and your patients are very fortunate to have such a caring physician. I know they would want you to believe the truth about who you are, as a physician and a person, and shine that light on your own magnificence. Thank you again for your great comments.

  24. Hi Danielle,
    Like all the other “replies” above it was so eye opening to hear your story. I’m just finishing training in Orthopedic Surgery and haven’t even begun clinical practice on my own yet. I am most upset by the havoc medical training thus far has had on my life. My relationships, physical and mental health have all suffered tremendously. I am 34 and single still because all my partners in the past have left because I could barely take care of myself and not be available for them. I feel like I went into medicine for the same wrong reasons as you. I do like operating and doing procedures but the overall stress, time commitment, and inflexibility kill me. Through residency I though about quitting briefly only a few times but was convinced to stick it out because I was always told “it will get better” after residency. I don’t know what to do honestly at this point. I’m single with minimal debt and could walk away right now or I could stick it out. I have no idea what I’d do next and feel so lost. All in all, just like you I wish I had better guidance choosing a career. It’s worthless to obsess about the past and we can only look forward. It is very comforting to see I am not alone. Thank you.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Chance, thank you very much for commenting on Danielle’s piece and sharing your story. Residency, especially surgical ones, can be especially challenging. You are right that is is very hard to have any semblance of a normal life or healthy relationships. With all you have been through, it is difficult to make a clear determination of whether or not medicine is a good fit. You are absolutely not alone. It is important for you to be able to be in a clinical setting where you have much better work-life balance so you can find out if you do enjoy Orthopedic Surgery. You might consider doing something like locums if possible to give yourself flexibility and time to sort things out. Take care and let us knwo if we can do anything to help you.

  25. I appreciated the courage and candor of your story. I am a 4th year student who is in interview season for FM. I have had a train wreck academic run as an MS with multiple failures in every single step including the latest boards. I have stuck with this with grit to see how far I can take things but now it’s starting become clear that my mental stability is shaking with anxiety and tears. I will finish out my degree but I’m looking at an early change before I take it any further. I have begun to appreciate more socially dynamic aspect and listen to podcast on networking and relationship building. Would an MBA degree help? At 32 and quite healthier than everyone else I think I still have a shot to turn things in a better way. Even a simple Friday night drinks are a delight to me.I just want a balance in my life now. Any thoughts as an ex- PCP to a planning and wondering PCP candidate would be great.

    • Heather Fork says:

      John, thank you very much for sharing some details about your situation. I am sorry to hear how challenging medical school has been. You are at an important juncture in your education/career path and you are wise to be asking these thoughtful questions and considering what different paths could look like for you. I am responding on behalf of Danielle and can tell you from all of my experience working with many medical students, residents, and physicians, the right answers are very unique to the individual. An MBA may be good for someone with a specific endpoint in mind for which this business training is appropriate, but for many, it would be a waste of time and money. There are many different directions one can take both within healthcare and clinical medicine, and in the non-clinical realm. It takes a fair amount of time and research to determine what would be the best fit for any one person. If you would like additional assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me through my website. Heather

  26. It was the perfect time for me to find this story. I feel like the entirety of my adult life has been centered around my career as a physician…4 years of undergraduate study, 2 years a post bac fellow, 5 years of medical school (extra years for full time thesis project), and then 3 years of internal medicine residency at one of the top programs in the country. It was early on in my residency when I started to question whether clinical medicine was the right fit. I had truly loved medical school but there seemed to be such a disconnect now that I was actually the doctor. Many of these feeling drove me to select subspecialty training because I thought that it would be better…once I got to fellowship I would be in the right place. I am now four months into a heme/onc fellowship and while I love the textbook stuff (actually have time to read about a disease) the practice of it is fraught with all the same things I hated as a resident. I have established care with a psychiatrist who encouraged me to “feel better” before making any major decisions but I can’t help but think that such a significant portion of why I don’t “feel well” is the work itself. I ended up having a honest conversation with my program director and have taken a leave of absence from the program to figure this out. I definitely want to work and want to use my medication education in some way, I just don’t think the day to day grind of clinical practice or academia is for me.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Thank you Stacey for reading and commenting on Danielle’s blog and sharing your own journey. It sounds as if you are really trying to listen to yourself and find out what is right for you – bravo to you. It can be hard sometimes to sort out all the factors that may be affecting you, but your leave of absence will be helpful for you to gain clarity. I have heard from other physicians that while they enjoy learning about medicine and the science behind it, the clinical practice is not what they thought it would be. It can be due to a number of factors, such as feeling uncomfortable with the responsibility and decision making, experiencing anxiety, not enjoying the patient interaction or all of the administrative duties, and other reasons. You will find your answers if you focus on what is the best path given who you are. I wish you the best, please feel free to keep us updated.

  27. I too can relate to all of this. The distress, anxiety, etc started in 3rd yr med school. I attributed it to my mother dying during my first year and I had to take care of her all by myself. I took a 3 month loa but then my loans came due and I felt I had no choice but to return just to keep the bills off my back as I had no way to repay them. I lost my father as a very young child and having no parents or relatives, just my college boyfriend, who was trudging his way thru a miserable PhD in physics… 8 freaking years of post grad hell… That’s another story.
    Anyways, I went back, finished, chose the least of the evils, radiology. Suffered depression through it but made it thru 5 yrs and a subspecialty fellowship. Got a job with no call, have worked 23 years where I progressively dialed it back as far as possible. By all accounts appearing to be highly successful, very well paid and no call. Yet each day was an agonizing 10 hrs of pure misery. High paid factory worker. Spend entire day in the dark, such that during winter you don’t see the light of day. Analyze literally thousands of images looking for the most subtle signs of cancer or other life threatening disease. Sit in front of 14 gigantic monitors clicking mousing scrolling zooming image sharpening… I won’t even get into the patient encounter aspects in breast imaging, biopsies and crushing volume of work expected to generate rvus. Despite having optimized my medical career to the best of my abilities, it has been misery. The expectation of perfection, the corporate giant that rules your life, the fear of failure. Omg. Despite being at the actual job only a portion of each week I was never free of it due to the incessant anxieties, worries and fear of being sued. I never was, and I honestly know I performed at a high level of excellence. But the cost to my well being was enormously destructive. I am unable physically (neck, spine, carpal tunnel repetitive motion damage) or emotionally to continue this high paid factory job. I would say to anyone questioning whether to continue as a med student, resident or very early in practice, get out! That is just my opinion but having lived thru a lengthy 33 years I think it’s of some value. What has driven me? The money, the fear of not able to do anything else, the identity, probably shame and horror of quitting and just sheer ox like determination.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Terry,
      Thank you so much for sharing your own story and words of advice. I am sorry to hear of your misery and stress as a radiologist. What you say is echoed by many radiologists and other physicians about the challenges of medicine. I hear from other radiologists about having to be a reading machine all day long and how they’ve lost the joy in their work. Some have found improvement by reducing their financial obligations and cutting back on their schedule, or by branching into other areas, such as informatics or utilization review. It can take time to find ways to supplement clinical work, or a better clinical setting, but physicians have a lot of talent and ability and acquiring new skills can certainly be done. You were not kidding when you said you had, “sheer ox-like determination.” You really hung in there for the long haul. I hope you are getting to enjoy your life now. Best wishes to you.

  28. Everything in this post, and most of the comments above, resonates very strongly with me. I went straight into medical school aged 18, I feel I was encouraged to study medicine because achieved good grades and was always told to try and challenge myself. Medical school was great, I breezed through without really thinking about the career at the other end.

    I completed my foundation training in the UK and can honestly say I did not enjoy a single day. I realised I have made a huge mistake now and that constantly plays on my mind, making it nearly impossible for me to ever relax. Unfortunately I have accumulated a significant amount of debt so will need to continue working for a couple more years before I can try and start over again with a bit more thought and direction to my career plan.

    I have tried looking for other types of employment but it really seems I am not really employable in any other area. I think I will return to university for another undergrad eventually. I suppose I am concerned about how to go about developing a new CV and trying to explain that I quit medicine because it was destroying my soul.

    Thanks for this post, great to know i’m not alone!

    • Heather Fork says:

      David,
      What you expressed here is something I know will resonate with a lot of readers. Many have entered medicine because they were smart, liked science, and it seemed like a worthy direction. Medical school can end up going well, until the patient part comes in and all of a sudden it is a different kind of animal. It’s hard to know in advance what it will feel like to be responsible for someone else’s health and life until you are in that position. And it doesn’t even become fully real until after residency. Many are fine with it, but for others it is stressful, or not very interesting, or just not what they expected. You are obviously very intelligent and hardworking. There are options for you. Take the time to find out what is right for you and don’t worry about what other people will think. They are not living your life and you are allowed to change careers, there is no law against it any people have done it for centuries.

  29. ugochukwu says:

    Hello David,
    My name is Ugoo, am from Nigeria. I quit medicine after graduation.I understand clearly what you are saying but you dont have to go back to undergrad. If you want non clinical medicine, maybe you should consider Public Health. An MPH can be done part time or distance learning.
    you can also consider pharmaceuticals. An Msc in pharmacology will increase your chances.
    If you have the time, a volunteer work in public health can make all the difference. Attend some of their conferences. With these in your CV, you can be considered for a job.
    They wont pay as much as surgery, but enough for you to take care of yourself and have a life. Thanks

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Ugoo. Thank you for this spot on advice. You are right in that there are different options without having to do another undergrad degree. The doctors I know who have not continued beyond residency have done a variety of things. Some have gone into medical writing and informatics- working with the electronic medical system. Others have gone in the finance direction, some working for brokerage firms, another becoming a CPA. Pharma and public health are natural directions, as you mention. You are also wise to point out that doing some additional study and volunteering are good ways to increase one’s platform. Most important is to find a direction that is of interest and matches with one’s natural inclination, because it does take a good amount of effort. Thank you again Ugoo!

  30. Christina says:

    Dear All

    I have 3 months before I complete obgyn residency. My path has been crazy. I am international doc so did steps then matched away front husband so changed residency program half way.
    Now here at this juncture – I have never felt so confused before.
    All my colleagues are applying for jobs & I honestly don’t want to even start looking. I’ve been wanting to be a doctor since I was 6 yrs old. I can’t believe I am so disillusioned now.
    I have no idea what I would do & if anyone would even hire- doing what?
    It’s good to hear there are others who feel similar way. Any feedback welcome. Thank you friends.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Christina, I appreciate your reading Danielle’s Story and letting us know how you are feeling. As you could tell from reading the post, Danielle was feeling very discouraged and confused at one point, and I am happy to say she is doing terrific, as is true for many physicians like yourself who at one point felt lost and disillusioned. The advice I would give is to know that you are smart, talented and able to work hard. No one gets to where you have without these qualities. There are always opportunities for those with these attributes. It can take time to figure out the right direction for yourself, especially when you are probably pretty burned out, but there are stepping stones, and all you need to do is take a step to the first one, take a breath, and know that you CAN figure this out. There are many who have gone before you who can help shine some light and many who will walk with you so you are not alone. I’ve seen many, many doctors go from utter confusion and unhappiness to joy and satisfaction. It is not magic, or just for the “lucky.” It is available to anyone at any point in his or her life.

  31. Wow, I really thought I was one of very few people who are fed up with medicine. I too am in radiology, at the end of many many years of training, about to finish a competitive fellowship. The problem is that the most logical way forward for me is academic medicine, and I simply feel I am not cut out for that life. I have no desire to publish or do research. I’m just not that smart. If I go into private practice, I’ll be a slave to hours, billing, etc. Jobs in my area are scarce and the people who have them are worked to the bone, while pay steadily drops. I just love life too much to waste the rest of my youth in something I don’t love anymore.

    At the end of fellowship, I get a mini panic attack every time my pager goes off. I can’t sleep when on call. I can’t envision being called away from my family on weekends or in the middle of the night for the rest of working life. I thought that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, but now I’m just seeing more tunnel. My kids are starting to resent my job, and the demands on my time are only going to get worse. I am fortunate that my wife has a good income so I can take some time off to figure things out, but I just don’t know what I can do with my skills that will give me satisfaction.

    I’m over the “what will other people think” stage… they don’t have to live my life, and I don’t care if they think I’m foolish for going this far and changing paths. I just wish I could figure out my next move.

    • Heather Fork says:

      You have a lot of company Jonas. Even doctors who are OK with practice are looking for ways to find new challenges and keep growing and learning professionally. I am wondering if you might be able to find a private practice opportunity that was part time and would allow you to explore non-clinical directions? I know it can be very daunting to be unhappy, but not be able to see a clear path with definable steps to a better career fit. The good news is that most doctors come to this crossroad without clarity, but by going through a process, they find resources and answers. For me, I started with a simple commitment to myself that I was going to find a career situation where I enjoyed my work more. I didn’t know the how or the what, but in time I found them, and I have seen hundreds of doctors do the same, so I hope this gives you hope! Thank you for your post.

  32. Chrystel Venturini says:

    Hello Heather, I feel really connected in what you said. I am trying to figure out what can I do if i quit radiology. I want to quit but I feel obligated to continue working as a single mom with 2 young children but I believe I will find my way. I also grew up with criticism from my family including a hyper narcissistic mother and always felt low esteem and I was pushed to do medicine. I worked part time but still I don’t like it and going to work always stress me out. I would like to move out but feel stucked by the bills that I have to pay and the obligation to work and the resposability to support my family. Thank you for your honnesty and courage. I believe I will find soon a better horizon and an inner peace. Best,

    • Heather Fork says:

      Chrsytel, Thank you very much for your comments on this post. I am sorry for any confusion, but the blog was written by my awesome former client, Danielle. She did a fantastic job telling her story and I am glad it resonated with you. I like what you said about how you believe you will find your way. I believe this is true too. You are highly intelligent, capable and seem to know yourself well. Keep your commitment to yourself to find a better work situation and don’t let go of it. Try to have each decision you make move you closer, not further away, from this vision. It may not happen overnight, but in time, you will find you have arrived. Good luck and please keep in touch! Heather

  33. Hi there I am a medical student currently considering leaving to pursue my passion for art and design. This has certainly motivated me to do so even more as I see a lot of myself in Danielle’s story and feel that I had similar motivations in getting into medicine as she did. I was wondering how she is doing now? Does she regret anything about her decision four years on and did she pursue a further career in art?

    • Heather Fork says:

      Hello Aoife,
      Thank you so much for reading Danielle’s story and commenting. Everyone is different and you have to do what is right for you. Danielle is doing great, and does not have regret about her decision. She does art for a hobby, but is very happy professionally working as a physician advisor. She uses her medical knowledge to help patients get the care they need and healthcare resources are used appropriately and efficiently. She could not be doing her current work if she had not completed training and practiced for a number of years. But that may not be what you decide to do. Keep us posted! Thank you.

      • Mary Smith says:

        Is a physician advisor akin to a patient advocate?

        • Thank you for reading and your comments! I am sorry to hear about your mother’s illness. It is true that our system is often not very supportive of those needing to care for family members in needs. I hope your time for reflection and reassessment helps you find a way to have balance and still enjoy working in whatever capacity you choose.

        • Hi Mary, thank you for your question. The physician advisor is considered a liaison between the hospital administration and the clinical staff.
          They wear a number of different hats, but are often involved in inpatient vs. observation status, length of stay, insurance appeals and documentation improvement. They do help improve patient care, but are are not working officially as patient advocates. If you would like to read a blog on the physician advisor, here is a link: http://doctorscrossing.com/2016/09/hot-getting-hotter-the-physician-advisor-role/. Thank you for your interest!

  34. Hello

    I am a junior doctor about to finish my foundation year 2 in the uk, I am currently pregnant with my first child and have not been able to enjoy a single day of this experience. The hospital I work in is understaffed and over stretched dangerously. I’m currently rotating through a accident and emergency block and work 60-70 hours a week and by the end of the 4 months will done 40 night shifts. I am well and truly burning out, I find it so upsetting that a career you dream about entering all your teenage life can be designed as a result of poor management and work load expectations to bring you to your knees and regret ever wishing for it. I am currently at the stage where I am accepting my unhappiness and loss of love for life, family, myself and my disillusionment with my job. I am very grateful for this article as it has completely given me in black and white my own story, including my motivation for entering medicine in the first instance which resonates completely with the article. You have given me the motivation to move onto the next stages and start living for myself and my soon to be child. I love helping people but not in the conditions I am forced to work in and I simply refuse to be the doctor that is fabulous in his skill but when he talks about his career will inevitably mention ‘my kids didn’t really see much growing up’, a line which reflects lost time and regret that cannot be treated at that stage.

    Thank you for sharing this article.

    • Heather Fork says:

      Thank you Sana, I am so glad that Danielle’s story has given you hope. I am glad to hear that you are making a commitment to having a life where you have time for your child and family, work that is fulfilling and has healthy boundaries. I appreciate your sharing your story and send a wish for positive changes in your current situation. Please feel free to keep us updated. Take good care.

  35. Dr. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I worked my last day of my family practice clinic job 4 days ago after only just over 2 years (not counting my 3 year residency). I, like you, took a chart review right out of this position and so far it is working out great. I went into medicine for all the wrong reasons. I appreciate the stable pay-check and prestige, but at the end of the day, the money and “prestige” hasn’t meant a thing to me. I wasn’t “forced” to go into medicine, but let’s just say that I grew up with a very traditional Chinese mother who “programmed” me from day 1 to become a doctor. It’s no coincidence that my older sister is also a doctor.

    But I could see early on the increasing frustrations of patient-care, EHR implementation, layers of bureaucracy, diminishing physician autonomy, and decreasing respect for the profession were only going to get worse.

    My true passion is art, too. Music, more specifically. And having more time and energy to pursue that has already been amazing, just thinking of the wide possibilities in front of me. Medicine was just a tool to me to get food on the table. I can’t waste my vital years just “pushing through” my days when I could be so much more fulfilled.

    I related with your story so well even though I am so early in my career. But, better to get out earlier than later if that miserable, right?

    • Hello Mike, I very much appreciate your comments on Danielle’s blog and sharing some of your story. I do agree that if medicine is truly not your calling and something you were programmed into, it is better to figure this out sooner rather than later. I am glad to hear that your decision has felt right to you and you’re enjoying following your natural interests and talents. Good luck to you – please keep us updated on your journey if you like!

  36. Thank you for a great and honest post! I’m an FM resident currently on leave because I’ve been miserable in medicine for awhile now as I just don’t seem to enjoy my day to day work. I thought it would be a good idea to step back and assess the direction of my life. It was super scary telling people about my leave also…family, my classmates and my supervisors, but I’m glad I did. I still am not completely sure what I’m going to do and feeling a bit stuck in terms of knowing what career options are out there, but also what will be a good fit for me, but it’s reassuring to read that other people have done it and been successful. Where there’s a will there’s a way. And I know no matter what I decide, at the end of the day I’ll find a way to make the best of it.
    Does anyone have good tips in terms of non-clinical work for people who haven’t completed a residency? (and would rather not…if possible)

  37. I just wanted to say thanks to Danielle and Heather for a very helpful article and comments thread. I am an Oncology hospital specialist in the UK. For the last year I have been thinking about leaving clinical medicine. A few months ago I hit an emotional burn-out and decided to leave, but proceeded by chronic frustration and relentless demands. I don’t want to work in a career and healthcare system that is damaging to me physically, mentally and spiritually. Finally I was honest with my partner, family and some colleagues. It has been hard, but I am trying to make consistent steps in a better direction. I have started by working one less day per week, slowing down, actively networking and researching other job and business opportunities. There are more options than I ever realised and it is exciting to think how I can apply my skills and experience to other fields. I have common apprehensions and concerns, but on the whole I feel positive.
    So many of the comments above resonate with me and I see and feel the compassion, dedication and sincerity of those who have also contributed. I wanted to express my best wishes and thanks

    • What a lovely comment Steve! A big thank you on behalf of myself and Danielle for your words of appreciation and sharing a bit of your own journey. I am very cheered to read that you have been able to let those who are important to you know of your burnout and are taking action to find renewal and a positive, sustainable direction. You are taking all the right steps in terms of your honesty about your feelings and experience, cutting back on work hours, networking and learning about options. Oncology is a very good specialty for a spring-board into other directions such as pharma, insurance medicine, consulting, disability, medical writing, and research, etc. We wish you all the best in this process and would enjoy hearing as you make your way to happier times!

  38. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for telling your story and journey. I was in tears reading this because I too want to get out of medicine and have been searching online for a long time and then finally found this! It’s like Danielle and others who have commented have taken the words out of my brain of what I am feeling. I have so much anxiety and pain and just need out! I am A Physician Assistant and have been working for 6 years but after some devastating life events, I have not been happy in medicine and realized this isn’t the career for me

    I don’t know where to start in finding a new career….
    Any websites, pointers or where to start would be appreciated
    I hope others are finding their way <3

    • On behalf of Danielle, thank you very much for reading and commenting. I am glad you found her post. I a very grateful to her for telling her story. There is a whole community of physicians who are supporting each other in finding greater career satisfaction. You can find them by joining the Facebook group – Physician Non-Clinical Career Hunters. THere are over 9K doctors on this site sharing resources and support in a very welcoming community. Don’t lose hope. Change is entirely possible.

  39. VICTOR MONG says:

    Hello Heather Fork,

    My name is Victor Mong. I am Nigerian. I am a writer, public speaker and life coach.
    I would like to seek your authorisation to adapt this story for my upcoming book. This story resonated with one of my chapters where I talked about the danger of living outside one’s Divine Purpose.
    I would really like to hear from you.
    Please contact me through my email: info.victormong@gmail.com
    Thank you.

  40. Thank you for your interest in using Danielle’s story in your book and for seeking permission. Let me check with Dr. Danielle.

    Heather

  41. Eloise Bradham says:

    Hello Danielle and Heather,
    I identified totally with this piece, and after 31 years in part-time (raising kids, etc) practice, am trying to find my next path. The search for approval she noted as a reason for going into medicine resonated with me.
    I hope to find my next purpose and still pay the bills.
    Eloise Bradham, MD

    • Hello Dr. Eloise Bradham, thank you very much for reading and commenting. You have certainly paid your dues! 31 years. Most impressive. I am glad you are giving yourself permission to find what moves you. Keep us posted! Heather

  42. A number of doctors, especially if they have loans paid off, could become high school educators. While the pay might not be the best, they can always teach on the side biology/chemistry at a local college. There are several nationwide programs that pay higher than normal wages for STEM educators.

Post Your Comment

*