Medicine and the meaning of life

I remember the scene clearly.

Sitting in the backseat of my parents car – looking out at the street and daydreaming about the future.

We happened to drive past a local general practice surgery. And I blurt out with enormous clarity – “the last thing I’d ever want to be is a doctor”.

Of course some years later I did enrol in medicine. And I proceeded to forget about my declaration of years before.

But I was reminded of that feeling this morning after presenting to a group of doctors.

Medicine for me has been a tumultuous journey – there’s been a lot of angst and tears and trying to figure out my place in the medical world. Learning medicine was not so much the problem as doing medicine. From day 1 it was clear to me that it just didn’t fit – somehow I was cut from a different cloth but I didn’t know what.

And so began the endless guilt trip about what ‘a waste’ it was that I didn’t do clinical medicine – and what type of doctor am I anyway if I haven’t specialised in something – and not even a GP???

Long story short – practicing medicine in its traditional form was just not for me. And so as, I’ve written before, I spent a long time praying and searching for how to be a doctor that was right for me. How could I best contribute to the world? How to make meaning out of feeling like I had ‘wasted’ my education and all the rest of it?

Finally, after more than 20 years of exploring and searching and experimenting, I discovered coaching. Until I started working with a coach in 2013 for help in a work crisis, I’d thought coaches were just for tennis players. But it turns out coaches are pretty good for professional development and getting your life sorted out as well.

I will be eternally grateful to my own coach who pushed me to find myself as a person who was far ‘bigger’ and more complex that my qualifications. Who helped me accept myself as my own type of atypical doctor and discover what I had to offer the world not only as a doctor – but, more importantly, as a human.

Which brings me back to today.

There I was, a ‘failed’ doctor teaching other doctors how to build confidence and authenticity in interviews. How to overcome imposter syndrome, which I only know about because of my daily battles with my old friend. Oh the irony did not escape me.

Sitting and listening to other doctors speak after me – I couldn’t help but feel that old “out of place” feeling arise. Training programs, exams, gruelling shift work and ward rounds and endless crisis management was not for me. Not then, and not now.

And yes of course the imposter in me was having a bit of a field day – “you’re not a real doctor” etc. But beyond that, a large part of me was feeling entirely relieved and affirmed that I had made the right career choices for me. For the first time in, like ever, I did not feel like I had failed by not continuing in a clinical career.

I so admire the people who pursue clinical careers with all the sacrifices it involves. But it doesn’t have to be for everyone. There are so many different ways to be a doctor.

As for me, well I seem to have found my place in encouraging and providing support for others, who, like me, are questioning who they are and what their career is all about.

And so maybe I was right, back then decades ago – I never was meant to be a doctor in the traditional sense. But my mission and meaning now comes from helping others be the best doctors they can be – and helping them feel comfortable in finding their unique pathways to medicine and the meaning of their own life.

And I want them to know, that no matter their choices or circumstances – nothing is ever wasted.

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