Woah. 2022 has been a year full of ups and downs. I figured it would have been a year of pure highs and perfection, since I finally finished internship and residency.

After two years of slogging it through, I thought that my life would be infinitely better on the other side, and that things would just fall into place.

It hasn’t been as straight forward as that. While I’m so grateful to be able to figure things out, it’s not easy. I figured it would be worthwhile for myself, and maybe someone else to break this year down into seven phases.

Initial month – the couch potato phase

My first month after completing residency was pure couch potato mode. I lay on my sofa for hours on end. Days blurred into weeks, weeks into months.

My work had given me a decent sum of money for all my overtime, weekends and public holidays worked so I had funds to survive.

I think this was my recovery phase too, where I just needed to lie down and rest.

What did I do?

I read book after book, watched a lot of Netflix, played the Sims, and went to the beach. I didn’t really do any form of physical activity, and it was not a productive time in my life.

Having said that, I think my body and mind was craving the need to do nothing and just be.

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Month two – the freakout phase

After couch potato phase I started to slowly slip into a much more frenetic phase. My freakout phase.

I began to ruminate, a lot, on the future and what I was supposed to do with my life now. I had never not done something before. Even on holidays, I was always on the go.

After decades of being goal oriented I was aimless and with nothing to work towards. I had no idea what to do next. I knew I didn’t like working in the hospital, and that I probably didn’t like being a doctor at all, but what now?

Coincidentally, this phase also occurred while my funds dwindled closer to 0.

HOW was I going to make money? Who would pay rent and the bills? The lists of hows were endless, and I was anxious.

This translated into action. Action based on fear and anxiety and the urge to do something, anything.

I signed up to locum agencies, emailed people to be references, applied for General Practice training, applied to study multiple different Master degrees at multiple different universities…

I was chaotic.

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Month three – my back to the same old phase

So after two months away from clinical medicine, I found myself back to where I started. Kind of.

I had scored myself a sweet locum gig in the same hospital I worked at as a junior doctor. It was in the Emergency Department, it was work as you wanted and the pay was so much better. Perfect, right?

Well, it would have been perfect if I actually enjoyed being a doctor and working in an Emergency Department.

I soon began to work evenings, weekends and the one night shift. The idea that you don’t bring your work home from the Emergency Department was wrong. I still brought my work home, and stayed up at night obsessing over if I made the right choice.

Was it the correct diagnosis? Should I have admitted them? Was it okay to send that sick kid home?

One of my first shifts I misdiagnosed a patient. They had symptoms of diarrhoea, bloating and flank pain after laparoscopic surgery. I figured it was from the gas retention, and discussed with my senior. They agreed, we sent them home. They returned the next day and were found to have a pulmonary embolus.

I beat myself up so hard about this misdiagnosis. How could I have missed it? Am I a bad doctor? Am I even worthy of calling myself a doctor and practicing? I began to think “anything is better than this”.

I even contemplated ending my own life at this phase. Thinking there was no other way out. This thought scared me even more.

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Month four – my slump phase

A lot of guilt and shame surrounded me after a few shifts in the Emergency Department. I very quickly realised why I had wanted to leave medicine in the first place.

There was very little of it that I liked, and the thought of making a life threatening error plagued me.

Was it really worth going through the sleepless nights for a paycheck?

I began to feel hopeless and trapped again. I didn’t know what else to do and began to cut back on my shifts. From four shifts a week I went to two, then one. Then I went to one shift a fortnight. It still affected me.

The fact that I couldn’t emotionally handle one shift a fortnight (at high pay) made me feel guilty in itself. How could I not be able to do that? I felt that I had tried everything to make clinical medicine work, and even 10 hours a fortnight was too much.

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Month five – action phase II

Then I began to slip back into that chaotic energy from before. This job wasn’t right for me, okay. Maybe I just couldn’t work in a hospital. Maybe a clinic would be better.

So I sat my entry exam for GP training and asked my locum agency if they had any non-clinical jobs available. What else could I do? What could I do now?

Within a few weeks I had landed a well paid job in Clinical Research. Cool! Maybe this is my true calling!

At the same time, I was invited to discuss strategies to spread awareness of Doctors’ Health and got accepted into my first choice of a Master degree! Everything was looking up.

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

Month six – bubble burst phase

Everything seemed perfect. I had a new Master degree, fancy new job and I got an interview for GP training at my first preference. Wow. The world is my oyster.

Then my fancy desk job in research started to unravel. Instead of the initial 9-5 it became a ‘can you work 7-7, 5 days a week?’. The people pleaser that I am, I said yes.

In my first few days I was told that they wanted to eventually promote me to be their head doctor…great…but I’m still orientating myself.

After this, the resignations began. Soon I found myself the lone doctor in the research clinic with no support (my first few weeks). I began to see major safety issues and it seemed that the place was a business first and foremost. Patient safety was an afterthought.

Maybe this isn’t my ticket out of here. I realised that I couldn’t stay at this new job or take on the responsibility of being the head doctor (no matter how much they paid me). Especially when I was craving no responsibility. I had rushed head long into something to avoid feeling anxious, and though I was getting paid well, it wasn’t the right choice for me or my morals.

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Month seven – the reawakening phase

Now we are at the present and I’d like to call this phase reawakening phase. I feel like I’m starting from zero again, but it’s not a bad thing.

When you’re deciding to leave medicine it’s a lengthy, complicated process. The steps in the process can’t be skipped.

I listened to a podcast by Heather Fork, MD from the Doctor’s Crossing today that listed the three key steps in Physician Career Change.

  1. Evaluate your mindset
  2. Realise your interests and skills
  3. Action

I had skipped straight to action. Fuelled by fear and anxiety. Though it’s hard to do, it’s easier in the long run to pause and deep dive into your feelings. Processing what’s happened to you properly and to not rush the process.

I was searching for my next answer, but I need to reflect within first.

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! Hope it can help someone.

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