There’s a lot of hubbub about The Great Resignation right now.
Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs each month. It’s happening in medicine and other sectors such as education, tech, and fast food. Interestingly, it’s not the typical younger employees driving the massive numbers; it’s mid-career workers.
In our household, we have seen both sides of the resignation. At the same time that my teen son quit his first job at McDonald’s, I resigned from my regular clinical job and went to PRN only.
There are obvious differences:
My son hated his job: Hot kitchen where every action is timed, pigeonholed to work as the fryer, boss with limited communication skills and a short fuse.
He learned what he doesn’t want in a job. So he quit.
Meanwhile, I love my job. I love seeing my patients and their families. I love helping them navigate their health concerns. Urgent care visit for nonspecific abdominal pain for the past 2 to 3 months? That’s my jam! Oh, and I love my colleagues. We are a fantastic team, as they happily take the dislocations that make me feel woozy inside.
I learned about myself and what it is that I want. I got to choose whether I stay or leave. I love my job.
So I resigned.
It’s very easy to focus on reasons why physicians left their jobs over the past two years: COVID demands, childcare challenges, ongoing burnout, and administrative burdens, the unforgiving culture of medicine, and the American workaholic mentality have collectively come to a big, juicy head and it’s about to burst.
But “I quit” is not a response that comes easily to mid-career physicians. We are inherently not quitters. There has to be something on the other side of leaving. There has to be something more. This is why focusing on the root cause of mass resignations misses a big opportunity: To focus on what is on the other side of the resignations.
Mid-career physicians realize that they are more than cogs in the machine. They have more to offer the world than seeing one patient every 10 to 15 minutes.
And the more that we realize the value that we have to offer, the more that we can step back from the clinical drudgery of medicine without running away but blazing a new path towards where that value is truly realized.
For some, that value is at home. For others, it’s in redefining what it means to be a healer.
I have realized all of this as I said “hell no” to the volume-based valuation of my worth. That could easily put me in the running-away category of resignation. Instead, I am embracing my new vision of myself:
I am an amazing, creative, caring healer who brings a cup of joy with me wherever I go, and I am taking that joy home to my family, my community, and my new role as an entrepreneur.
I didn’t see the business coming. Twenty years in clinical medicine taught me that I didn’t want to have to deal with all the administrative hassles of owning a practice, and I sure didn’t want to be my own boss, at least in the current structure of medicine. I convinced myself the easier path was to just let someone else take on the hassles of ownership.
Instead, I learned that I wanted to have more control over my own life, to become the CEO.
Assuming control of my life started with healing the way that I approach my narrative about being a physician. I am more than my degrees. They say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” The same applies to physicians. I can’t divorce myself from my healing heart. But I have turned that inward and have healed my relationships with my family and myself, and I have whispered to a younger version of me that becoming a doctor isn’t the end of the road. It’s the beginning.
Now I get to take my training, experience, and a whole lot of compassion out into the world. I’ve translated that into helping parents create a peace at home without all the food and body drama. Instead of operating from textbook answers on nutrition and health guidance – and invariable fights with their kids about “the healthy choice,” I help them find the answers that work for their unique family. This out-of-the-box thinking was stimulated when I let myself become something more than a physician.
On reviewing multiple Harvard Business Review articles, I see lamenting the Great Resignation. I celebrate it. It’s not so much about what people are leaving – but where are they going? What have they empowered themselves to become?
The thought, “There has to be something more,” has been pondered and fleshed out. We are stretching our wings, becoming educators, influencers, and entrepreneurs; creating movements and businesses; becoming the parents we always wanted to be. And I dare say that the writing is on the wall for organized medicine. We can lament that physicians are resigning and feverishly design retention programs. Or we can see that physicians do not want to be retained in this system. We are big thinkers, we are idealists, we are creative, and we are creating the future of medicine right now.
Wendy Schofer is a pediatrician.
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