The Scariest Part About Leaving Medicine
I woke up with butterflies in my stomach and didn’t want to get out of bed. I tried not to think about it because it made me feel like I was going to throw up. It was 40 degrees celcius that day, but really pleasant in the shade (apparently European summers are always like that), the sun was shining, it was the perfect day. We had been traveling for 3 months and had another 3 to go. But I was feeling like I was going to throw up.
I couldn’t put off the decision any longer.
My fiance and I were making more money than ever before (while traveling the world), we were helping hundreds of people at once, and we had the freedom to go anywhere we wanted. In fact, that day we were in the Macedonian lakeside town of Ohrid and decided to stay for 2 weeks instead of the initial 5 days just because we liked it so much. Before that we were in the mountainous town of Zakopane in Poland. We planned to stay one week and ended up being there for three, then wanted some sun so we flew to the Croatian Islands. That’s freedom.
But sending in my resignation that day was not the scariest part about leaving medicine. I went to and fro about how and when to resign and about sending that resignation to the hospital. I dragged myself out of bed, with Mare’s encouragement, and sent that email. In the end it was the best decision for us at the time. The business was taking off, it needed me to be around, life was exponentially better than being in the hospital and the future was very exciting.
The most frightening and high pressured moment came about 16 months later.
It was when the reality of my decision set it. Up until that moment I could go back to medicine whenever I wanted. There were many jobs around and I had great references. Until that moment 16 months after sending in my resignation, I was just in between jobs as a doctor. But after it, it would be much more difficult to go back. It would become official.
That was when my medical registration came up for renewal.
I needed it to be able to go back to medicine but I couldn’t renew my registration if I hadn’t worked for the last 12 months and acquired the CPD points. I had two options:
1 – Get a job as a doctor immediately, get the CPD points and renew my registration to keep the door open to medicine.
2 – Officially state that I was not going to renew. If I chose this and later decided to go back to medicine I may never be able to return.
There was a third option of paying a fee to be registered as a non-practicing registered doctor, but the process to return to clinical practice was the same as the second option above. So this didn’t make sense to me.
So it was pretty much, go to significant effort to keep the door open now or officially close it and leave medicine forever.
As the deadline approached every time I thought of this, my heart started to race, I felt nauseous and was filled with fear.
I had put the last 8 years of my life into medicine. Endless hours of study, stress, challenging situations, pushing myself, and the list of sacrifices that my wife, my family and I made were huge. I had put so much time into this that it would be a shame for it to go to waste.
Also, I was in a situation that people would kill to be in; I was a doctor. Children grow up dreaming of becoming doctors. In fact, I ran a company that helped people achieve this goal so I knew of hundreds of people who would give anything to become a doctor. Even my mother, who was a doctor in Poland but didn’t get through her conversion exams to become a doctor in Australia would kill to work as a doctor. And there I was considering leaving it for good.
And what if I left now and then later decided that it was a mistake and wanted to go back but couldn’t.
What if I made a mistake?
These were the big reasons (among many smaller ones) that made me want to throw up when I logged onto the website to submit a response before the deadline. It was too much to decide on my own. I almost couldn’t think straight because of the anxiety. So I spoke to a number of other doctors.
One was a close friend who is still a doctor. We went to uni together and he was someone who wanted to stay in medicine but get out of the clinical side. He showed me that if I wanted to go back, the door was never locked. There was always a way back. In fact, there’s an official process you can go through to return to clinical practice.
Roughly speaking, it involves doing a few courses, finding a supervisor and creating a plan to show how I would make sure my skills and knowledge were up to scratch and that I would be a safe doctor. Which makes complete sense that this is done.
Doctors by nature are intelligent and curious people with often wide interests. Many take up other projects outside of medicine such as politics, business, travel, education, administration, hobbies or what have you. Taking a few years out from clinical practice to explore these things makes sense and is more common than we realise.
The officials don’t want to punish the doctors for this, that would make no sense, these are great doctors. So they’ve created an official path to make sure that you’re safe and competent and can return.
That was reassuring.
The door is never really closed.
I was also thinking, what about the time and effort I had put into becoming a doctor, it would all be wasted? This is what’s called the sunk cost fallacy. I studied this in my undergraduate commerce degree. It often occurs in business when a project is failing and the company says, we would be wasting all the money and time we’ve already put into this project if we stop it now.
It’s actually a faulty form of reasoning. The time and money put into the project can never be returned. It’s gone. Continuing to run a project that will continue to fail with the slim hope of it maybe turning around takes up will not change the past. Also, it would be wasting future time and money which could be used for more productive projects. So sinking more time and money into it makes no sense.
This applies to life too. Continuing medicine when I didn’t enjoy it and there were obvious, amazing and exciting other things I wanted to do would not make the time and effort I had already put into it come back. It would just waste more of it and I’d miss out on the things I wanted to do.
I had a very honest and helpful discussion with an American Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Fernando Lamounier, about this. He was leading a busy life in academics as well as surgery when he needed to make a change otherwise he would crash. When I spoke to him it cleared up a lot of my confusion about the pros and cons of continuing in medicine just because I had spent a lot of time in it.
The time I spent getting into medicine, studying and working in it was incredibly valuable to me.
I learnt amazing things about myself, about people, life, death, humanity, developed the skills of getting things done, working under pressure and how to best live my life. There are things I experienced that no other human being who has not worked in medicine will experience or understand. Being with people during their illnesses, surgeries and recovery is like nothing else and I would not have done this any other way. It’s lead to to where I am now and I’m extremely grateful for my time in medicine.
Finally, what about all those people who would kill to be in my position; to be a doctor? I’m already there and I’m letting it go. Well, me leaving medicine doesn’t affect any other human beings dream or ability to become a doctor. What I decide to do with my life has no bearing on them. They are two separate issues. In fact, I still help people become doctors more than any other doctor I know – I run a company that helps them get into medicine! So I’m helping them whether I work as a doctor or not. But even without this company, living a life I don’t enjoy doesn’t help anyone else. What I do doesn’t change any other person’s medical dreams.
With all that in mind, I made the decision to go after my new life in Entrepreneurship full time.
I did not renew my registration
I made it official. Below is the photo of the confirmation letter I received – it was a big moment for me. I still have times when the above thoughts come back. I have the occasional dream where I’m working in the hospital but nobody knows that my registration has expired and I go into a panic 🙂 These are few and far between. It’s only natural to have these thoughts.
My life now fulfills my values more than working in medicine ever could have.
That’s what it ultimately comes down to; What lifestyle (because medicine is not just a career, it’s a lifestyle) would fulfill your values in the best way – Medicine or Entrepreneurship or both? For me the answer was Entrepreneurship.
The future is very exciting.
Mare and I have just had our first child, Ruby. We get to take all the time off we want to raise her. I don’t need to work night shifts. We can stay home as much or as little as we want – we live on our terms. It has its downsides, but the impact we are making now on people’s lives, the lifestyle and the income is still far greater than if I was in medicine.
Not every doctor who goes into business decides to leave medicine, and they don’t need to. I’m not recommending it either. It’s a personal decision and the possibilities and combinations are endless.