There are lots of things we get right about medical training, but one thing that I’ve always found to be lacking is discussion of the logistics of life in medicine: how to shape your career around the life that you want, instead of vice versa. Through my writing and speaking, I often have people reach out to me for advice in this regard. I love providing my input, but also am very aware that works for me may not be what works for them. After hearing a little about their lives, I usually ask them a few questions back – including, “Are you happy with where you are now?” and, “If you could describe your ideal career, what would it be?”
These are hard questions, and not surprisingly, people struggle to answer them concisely, if at all. As physicians, we simply aren’t used to thinking about these things. Maybe it’s because we don’t have time, maybe it’s a product of the culture of medicine, or maybe it’s because we are skeptical that we could have that life even if we tried.
Every once in a while, I get contacted by someone whose life parallels mine in ways that are almost scary. Dual physician family, both working full time with young children, student loans, struggling to reconcile professional desires with the life outside medicine that they want. I love these conversations, because obviously, I can relate completely. Interestingly, though, as I do this more, I’ve realized the themes behind these conversations are the same with everyone, regardless of gender, stage of career, or family situation.
The fact is, we should all be assessing our lives on a regular basis, and making adjustments as necessary. Sometimes, we need major changes, and that’s where I think that most of us get stuck. Whether it’s secondary to inertia, fear of failure, or just not knowing where to get started, too often, it’s hard to take that initial step towards concrete change.
One thing that I’ve been particularly struck by is how hesitant we as physicians are to come up with unique career pathways, instead of sticking to the mold. We don’t think enough about different practice models or alternative schedules, ways to create flexibility in our lives, or about what it is that we really need from our careers. After years of trying to get to the point where we can make money, we forget about thinking about how to make that money work to achieve our goals — whether that be by creating passive revenue streams, knowing what our end game is in terms of financial independence and retirement, or cutting back hours to have time to have more time to spend with loved ones, or even (brace yourselves), on ourselves and our personal development.
As burnout increases and the landscape of medicine poses new challenges on a daily basis, I think these are questions that physicians need to be asking themselves, and furthermore, setting aside the time and effort necessary to make concrete changes. Sometimes, even the smallest of changes can make a big difference. My advice? Just start somewhere — anywhere — happiness will follow.
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