It would appear that physicians (especially physician moms) are waking up to the unworkability of the medical profession. Our predecessors’ generation had tolerated working 80 hours per week and some even wore it like a badge of honor. That life doesn’t work for today’s physicians. We are expanding our horizons beyond the traditional medical career matriculation.
Our industry, however, is not keeping pace with our values, but rather working against them. The growing evolution of medicine can feel like a double-edged sword. I speak to more and more physicians each day who hate their current job circumstance and even more who are ready to leave the field altogether. If you are amongst them, it may help to understand the possible underlying causes behind these feelings.
Your Personal Priorities Are Changing
I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant with my son. My first thought was time to make my next career move. I had dedicated my entire life to my career and, while I loved it, my focus being on career left me neglecting relationships. So being first pregnant at 39, I was very clear about my priority shift.
For some of you, this happened the moment you decided to create a family. For others, it happened after years of struggling with balance. Still, for others, it may come as a result of you realizing you are no longer passionate about working for someone else, or worse, you have given up on your initial dreams. The bottom line is when your priorities are shifting, you may find yourself restless in your position. You will find yourself less tolerant of unworkability and questioning whether you made the right career choice in some instances.
Square Peg — Round Hole
I always knew my path in medicine would be different. I was very much a proponent of so-called “alternative” therapies back in the day. Integrative Medicine was obviously my path, but when I started, it was not popular and, in fact, it was somewhat frowned upon. Working for a large corporation with this mindset had me feeling like I didn’t belong. Similarly, if you are in a culture not matched to your ideals (either personally or professionally), then it can leave you feeling disenchanted and dissatisfied with your job. Over time if this goes unrecognized, the dissatisfaction could be collapsed and have you questioning your career. The awareness of the “square peg in a round hole” phenomenon can provide some freedom in that all there is to do is to then find the job that is a right fit for your values and goals.
Core Values Aren’t Being Met
Similar to the square peg in a round hole phenomenon is core values being dissonant. When I speak of core values, I’m not talking about our belief systems (that’s next). Our core values are what’s most important to us at our very core. These include Family, Integrity, Honesty, Autonomy, to name a few. Not meeting these core values ultimately leads to internal conflict and emotional suffering. For many of the burned-out physician mothers and women in medicine I’ve spoken with, what is very common is that their core values are not being met. When we find their job or create a career for them consistent with their core values, it makes a world of a difference in their level of fulfillment.
Divergent Belief Systems
A close cousin to core values is beliefs. Now, our individual beliefs are born of values, however, beliefs can be changed more easily whereas values tend to be more ingrained. When you work for a corporation or with people with vastly different belief systems, that can create frequent conflict. If neither party are willing to put aside their beliefs to work together, then it becomes a constantly unworkable situation. The impact of divergent beliefs is similar to those of dissonant values. At the end of the day, if opposing beliefs cannot be resolved enough to create a nontoxic environment, then it’s likely time to go.
Feel a Higher Calling
Finally, when we feel like we are not living “intentionally” or that we are not fulfilling a greater calling, over time what we are doing becomes lackluster. Sometimes this happens after many years of practice, and sometimes it happens immediately. The point is, living out of line with your purpose (or living without purpose altogether) becomes loud at some point and impacts how we view ourselves and our careers as doctors. We start to ask things like:
Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?
Is this really what I want to be doing?
Am I really making the biggest difference that I could be making?
When we are evaluating new and existing tasks, we often ask ourselves about the purpose. There may be countless other reasons why your existing circumstances are less than palatable (i.e. toxic environment, obvious bias, horrible schedule), but if you look at all of these reasons at their core, they probably fit into one of these five categories. Examining the deeper reasons behind why we are unhappy could be the key to creating careers we truly love and winning the battle of physician burnout for moms, women, as well as physicians in general.
Dr. Maiysha Clairborne is an integrative medicine physician and physician coach who helps other physicians create their ideal career & live a life of their design. She is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away. She can be reached at www.stressfreemommd.com
Dr. Clairborne was a 2016–2017 Doximity Fellow.