When I was accepted to medical school, I debated — hard — whether or not to attend.
Out of the physicians I shadowed and interviewed, 19 out of 20 advised me not to become a physician.
Their dissatisfaction was rampant.
Over and over, I was told, “Don’t be a doctor. Medicine’s not what it used to be.”
They spoke of concerns ranging from unreasonable work expectations to inhumane conditions. They described insurmountable pressure, decreasing autonomy, and increasing demands. They explained the lack of work-life balance and the struggle of trying to cram their personal lives around the creeping edges of their ever-growing workload.
It’s no wonder why so many physicians advise others not to enter the field.
Yet, in spite of chronic exhaustion, growing frustrations with the face of medicine, and high rates of burnout, many physicians remain practicing. Physicians are tough. After all, by the time they are practicing medicine, physicians have endured years of rigorous training and have developed a vast amount of stamina, determination, and grit.
Physicians don’t roll over and give up when faced with a challenge.
They rise to the occasion, dig deep for more perseverance, hold it together on the outside (even if they’re scrambling internally) and greet the next patient in line.
My advice, from one achiever to another, is to give yourself some freedom.
You’ve spent years putting the needs of others above your own. It’s time to give yourself some freedom to get clear about what your needs are, what matters most to you and design your best life.
Feeling burned out by your schedule? Give yourself the freedom to explore alternative work hours. A relatively simple shift in your schedule might significantly decrease the commuting time, or give you a work-life rhythm that feels a bit better to you.
Too much on your plate at home? Give yourself some freedom by outsourcing the tasks at home that don’t light you up. Delegating tasks to others doesn’t mean you’re weak or incapable. It means you’re focusing your time on what matters most to you and taking care of yourself.
Loathing your employer? Give yourself the freedom to consider other options. Take a good look at the competitor down the road – or even across the country. Look around at a range of opportunities and reflect on what you desire in a work environment.
Find yourself daydreaming about a life away from medicine? Give yourself the freedom to think about it. Give yourself the freedom to define what an ideal career looks like for you. Give yourself the freedom to consider non-traditional career paths. Seek information, research the options, and put your amazing investigative skills to a new use.
You’re intelligent, ambitious, and altruistic. Today’s world is desperate for you, and you have a ton to offer — whether you’re practicing medicine in a typical manner or you’re doing something completely different.
Medicine’s not what it used to be, and neither are you.
You’re no longer the bright-eyed, naive college kid, filling out medical school applications with a pollyanna view of medicine, living on late nights, and loads of caffeine.
Now you’re well-informed, and wishful thinking and caffeine aren’t cutting it anymore as a survival plan.
Your new vantage point requires a new strategy. As Marshall Goldsmith wrote, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
If you’re not fulfilled in your career, give yourself the freedom to make some changes.
If making a big change seems too overwhelming, start with a small step. Ask yourself, “What could I do this week to make my life one percent better?” Then give yourself the freedom to change your life by one percent.
After all, as Jim Rohn said, “Life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.”
Kerry Petsinger is a physical therapist and can be reached at her self-titled site, Kerry Petsinger.
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