A few years ago I found myself speaking to many Ph.D scientists who want to leave science research. Since my entire career path may be best labeled “alternative healthcare… plus!”, I am often contacted by life science professionals who are at the cross-roads of their lives and their careers, and wondering how to reconcile a career path for which they had invested decades of their lives with an increasing feeling of personal dissatisfaction.
Now, I find myself speaking to physicians who are stressed out both from their careers and from their imploding personal lives. While I won’t stop hearing from my scientist colleagues anytime soon from exploring alternative career transitions, I anticipate connecting with more medical doctors in the next few years. Many of these doctors no longer recognize the profession they used to love amid the increasingly hostile healthcare environment.
What worries me more is that many of these doctors no longer know who they are.
When you have invested years of your life: about two decades worth of yourself and your life to schooling to become a physician, your career decision has been deeply ingrained (i.e. family heritage) or deeply personal (i.e. personal value around making a difference as a healer). After all, it takes courage and commitment to choose a career where, when you’re finally ready to “start”, most of your peers in other professions are in their mid-career journey.
No wonder, for doctors, it can be harsh and hard to walk away from an identity that has been decades in the making.
If you are a physician, try this: describe yourself without making reference to your profession; without saying “I’m a doctor” or what clinical tasks you perform on a daily basis.
What are you left with?
If you don’t like the answer, make a plan to create one that you can live with and be fulfilled by for the rest of your life. Too often physicians settle for a role (“doctor”) as their identity, and when that role becomes threatened, they find that their identity becomes threatened. They feel out of control with who they are, what they stand for, and how they live their lives.
Now is the time for physicians to start facing this consuming identity crisis before they no longer recognize their lives or worse – themselves.