So here I am. I just finished updating my CV so I can apply for associate professor this fall.
And I hadn’t touched it since last year. It needed a lot of work.
I look at this, and I think, “Wow.”
And then I also think: What about all the “stuff” that’s not on there?
The difficult pregnancies.
My son’s struggles his first 36 months of life.
My husband’s year-long deployment as a new mother of two.
My daughter’s recurrent hospitalizations as an infant.
My grandparents’ murder-suicide.
My leaving the Navy after ten years and never feeling like I belonged anywhere since.
Being married to a supportive man but who was raised in a traditional home. (I’ve had to teach him everything on how to be a parent and contributing partner.)
The nights of sleeping on my kids’ floor during fellowship where I was working 100 hours a week.
The ripping apart of my family over COVID and politics over the past year.
The loss of my person, my maternal grandmother, who was the only one who ever saw me for me in our family.
The working a state away from my kids for 24 months so I can both do a job I love and allow my kids stability.
The abuse of a hospital system that I refused to be a part of leading to the need to work a state away.
The realization that the toxicity is everywhere.
And then getting a master’s degree to deal with my rage and distress at our system of doctoring.
And to now: When I know that no matter what, I simply cannot work full time anymore.
I am about to become a statistic—a part of our story as women physicians.
I cannot be the mother my children need, and I want them to have and be 100 percent all the time in a system as corrupt and heartbreaking as our medical system.
Today I am raising the white flag.
So I can figure out what part of my life is working and what parts are not, and if they are salvageable.
And I’m sad and angry and horrified that in 2022 it still comes down to this.
I wrote this about a month ago. I shared it with a group of female physicians and was asked to publish it, and one even offered me the name of the “un-CV.” But I sat with it for a while, and in that time, the world as we know it changed yet again. And I began to look at that white flag I was raising as weakness or an embarrassment. How could I back down when so many others in this world have no choice other than to keep going and keep fighting?
So I sat with it some more and then thought about something that my therapist says: “Why does it have to be either, or? Why can’t it be both, and?”
And I landed at a place where I was ready to admit that the reason I am leaving full-time academic medicine is because there are things I want to do with my time that simply are not possible in that arena. And I’m not talking about my “free time,” I’m talking about time.
Many think: Well, those are things you can do in your profession, and the answer is actually it really is not. We are a part of a system that values a product or quantity of billable work. Even within the construct of an academic setting, there is a box you have to check or fit yourself in to be taken seriously or applauded. This means that if you want to do any of the things I listed above and it does not meet a specific set of ideals/requirements, then it has to be done in your “free time.” And honestly, I’ve worked 50 to 100 hours a week for decades at this point, and the time is now for me to do the things I always swore I would do when I decided to be a physician.
So really, the white flag isn’t about me surrendering to a broken system but rather me admitting that my passions cannot be completely fulfilled within that same broken system from which I am withdrawing. It’s both, and, not either, or. If it prevents promotion, so be it. But my life and my work are about so much more than me. It’s about the sanctity of medicine and the representation and care for all in and out of the hospital.
While also occasionally taking my kids to school and getting the diagnostic mammogram I need without asking for permission.
Nicole M. King is an anesthesiologist and intensivist.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com