Why I Felt Guilty For Leaving Academics

“True greatness consists in being great in little things.”

– Charles Simmons

I had felt a great amount of shame when I left my academic roots. For many years I had believed I would stay in academics. I would be the person to change the face of medicine by understanding a unique aspect of cardiovascular pathophysiology and eliminate health disparities. 

As much as it sounds like my head was in the clouds, I really thought I could change medicine. I had told myself and others that for many years and believed it with all my heart. However, when the time came to make the decision about staying true to my word, I had changed my mind or at least that is how it felt when I left the academic setting.

I felt such shame and guilt about leaving. I was overwhelmed by the decision. I had multiple internal dialogues about what I should do. I thought that I would regret my decision and not find any happiness within community practice. I feared that I would become a robot and burn out from the fast pace of seeing patients. I did not want to look in the eyes of all the professors and attendings that had been a part of my journey because I thought all I would see is disappointment in their eyes. As if I was throwing away all the investment people had poured into me over the years.

This could not be further from the truth. I have learned so much through my journey from college all the way through my fellowship and I continue to apply what I have learned in my training on a daily basis. For example, I appreciate the importance of accountability, constant reading and self-teaching, and reviewing the latest research articles. The two worlds of academics and community practices are not as different as I thought they would be. Yes, I do not write grants or teach fellows, but I have a panel of patients that are expecting I remain up-to-date with the advances in the field. I teach my patients on a daily basis about disease processes and what it means to live with cardiovascular disease.

The practice I joined has been a better fit for me than I had expected, but I think it is because I had forgotten what brought me to medicine in the first place. When I think back to my original dreams about medicine, it was to become the community doctor. All I ever wanted to do was to take care of people when they needed me. I wanted to know the name of everyone in my community and watch them grow over time.

Medicine has changed quite a bit over the decades and the community doctor is not the norm now, but I still feel connected to the patients I care for and want to help them through each step of their care.

I no longer feel guilt about leaving the academic setting because I am living my dream. I am being true to who I was always meant to be. It is more important to be passionate and invest in my everyday life rather than to chase the dreams that others had for me. I have learned not to overlook that beauty and complexity of everyday life. I care for patients with my full attention and appreciate the challenges that come with patient care.

Dr. Fola Babatunde is a Cardiology fellow at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed her residency at Duke University Medical Center.

Dr. Babatunde is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

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