Your career doesn’t have to define you…..but it probably does.

 

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I want you to do me a favor.  Pretend we’re meeting each other for the first time.  You have to describe who you are in ten words or less without mentioning any relationship to another human being.  You can’t cop out and say I’m Anne’s husband, Paul’s mom or Mike’s oldest child.  Who are you?  Who and how do you identify yourself as?

For most doctors, a few of those 10 words would include their medical career.  It’s no coincidence.  Compared to most jobs, being a physician is a key feature of our identities.  I’m not saying it’s right.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.  I’m just telling you that whether you realize it or not, being a doctor is a big part of who you are.

Here’s a few reasons why your job had grown to define you.

The Long Road to Attending

While all your undergrad friends were goofing off in between underwater basket weaving and ultimate frisbee practice, you were cramming organic chemistry, physics, biology, histology and physiology into you brain.  While your buddies went to Europe for spring break, you were sitting in a library studying for the MCAT.

If I had a dime for every time the Henderson-Hasslebach equation came in handy, I’d have as many dimes as I had in undergrad.

Then while your friends were starting their families and careers you went to med school where the work load made undergrad look like a cake walk.  When your friends’ jobs really started taking off you spent another 3-8 years working 80+ hours a week making minimum wage taking care of patients as a resident.  When it was all said and done you spent 11-16 years preparing for your first day of work.  I’m not trying to sell you on the sunk cost fallacy.  I’m just saying that anything that intense you spend doing in your youth is going to leave a permanent mark on how you identify yourself.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

You may feel like patients don’t respect your opinion, consultants dump on you constantly and hospital administrators see you as a replaceable cog in the machine, but the rest of society really respects you and what you do.  How many times in your life has someone treated you nicer or with more respect once they found out you were a doctor?

I’m the most low-profile guy you’ll meet.  My wardobe could be best described as “homeless beach bum”.  I never volunteer what I do for a living and getting me to admit I’m a doctor in public usually involves a game of twenty questions.  Nonetheless I realize that people hold doctors with higher regard than most careers.  On some subconscious level that makes us feel good about who we are and what we do.

Income

No one should become a doctor for the money.  It’s not worth it and there are easier ways to get rich.  Just about every full-time physician is comfortably in the top 5% of income and with a little hustling most of you could be in the top 1%.  If you are wise you are living on a small fraction of that income and saving/investing the rest.

That doctor’s bag isn’t for carrying reflex hammers and tuning forks.

Money isn’t everything.  But it sure is important to a lot of people.  I’d be willing to bet that the kind of person reading a physician finance blog with their spare time is someone who is a fan of money.  Even if you don’t identify as “rich”, you will eventually identify yourself as someone who is financially secure and able to provide a comfortable life for your family.

Time on the Clock

I consider myself lucky.  Even though I work a lot of crappy hours (think 4am on Christmas or every other weekend of my life) I don’t work a lot of total hours.  Most full-time emergency physicians I know work 30-40 hours a week.  Most of my surgeon and OB friends work 60-80 hours a week.

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Getting paid by the hour, but older by the minute.

There is no way that the thing you do more than anything else during your waking hours isn’t a big part of your identity.  It’s just simple math.

Our Job is a Privilege

Being a physician becomes so routine that it is easy to forget how cool it is.  Some of you deliver babies, cure cancer or perform complex surgeries.  Others prevent diseases from ever occurring and help patients navigate the complex medical system.  My fellow emergency physicians routinely bring people back from the dead!

Sure, this job has its headaches.  There are patients you can’t help, patients who don’t need help and patients who don’t want help.  There are mountains of bureaucracy that seem designed to prevent you from doing your job.  But at the end of the day you can say you have a job that helps people.  What you do matters.  Don’t forget it.

Conclusion

This post is not intended to be a career pep talk.  You are more than your job.  We are put in this world to do more than work.  The physician blogosphere is jam-packed with stories of docs dreaming of retiring ASAP and leaving medicine behind.  We should be allowed to choose whatever path we want.  We aren’t beholden to society to keep working a job we don’t enjoy or continue earning money we don’t need to buy stuff we don’t like to impress people we don’t care about.

If you love your job – great! You have a job making a positive impact in people’s lives while earning incredible money and unparalleled respect. If you are burnt out or dreaming of early retirement just realize that being a doctor is a big part of who you are.  It would be naive to think the thing you spent a decade or more training for and thing you spend the most waking hours doing isn’t a key aspect of how you see yourself.

It is OK to want to be done with medicine. Just make sure you have a plan for what is taking its place.  In my next post we will discuss some steps you can take to develop your identity outside of medicine.

By the way – my ten words would be “hard-working dark-humored beach-loving family-oriented emergency doc”

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9 thoughts on “Your career doesn’t have to define you…..but it probably does.

  1. I think most people are defined by whatever career they are on, not just medicine. When you first start a conversation with someone, it very quickly gets to, “what do you do?” But you are spot on that we have put so much hours in our lives to becoming a doctor that it becomes ingrained. Most people would not pick me out as a doctor based on my clothes (or my behavior for that matter) and that is fine with me. I have certain colleagues that maintain the air of being a physician throughout the day, work or personal. It’s funny when people (even fellow doctors) call me Dr. first. I always correct them and give them my first name. But some doctors almost insist on being called Dr even amongst colleagues. To each his own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s ok to admit that being a doctor is a big part of our identity. I always find it weird when someone insists their colleagues refer to them as Doctor. You know that guy isn’t walking away from medicine anytime soon.

      Like

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