I watch my husband go off to work to be Dr. Scott. I listen to his patients love and respect him. I hear him discuss cases with his colleagues in order to better his practice.
Every day, I see him do what I was trained to do. I was good at doctoring. Or I would’ve been. I never spent any time with patients once I received my medical degree. I didn’t go on to my pediatric residency, not because I couldn’t, but because I chose to stay home with my son. I turned my back on not just my field but on the multiple departments who had asked me to consider their specialty instead of pediatrics.
When I announced my decision in 2006, my mentor at medical school asked: How can we keep good doctors like you from leaving? What can we be doing better?
I often think about her questions as my husband answers another page from a frantic patient. When I finish another load of laundry and when I pick up my children from school, I wonder how I could’ve kept myself from leaving. I can list out the reasons I left — the hours away from my newborn son, the relentless chipping away at empathy and tolerance by facing life-and-quality-of-life decision on 3 hours of sleep, the fact that I would’ve gone on to fellowship and been without decent hours until my son was 5 years old — but I still carry the shame of leaving my profession.
The significance of my choice is never more apparent than when we meet new people and are asked: What do you do?
Well, my husband is a pediatrician in the community. I am his wife. I am a mom. I write. Write what? A blog. Some freelance pieces. Oh, I once started a mom’s group with a nonprofit in town! Hmmm, what else…
I trail off wishing that I could answer with doctor. There would be nothing more to explain except what specialty I chose. What a relief. How much easier it is to feel important with a title.
Even if someone knows I went to medical school, there’s a pause that seems to shout: Why are you home? Why are you talking like you practice now? How could you never go back?
I hurry to fill in the details. To explain myself. But I rarely mention that sometimes I wish I was changing the world a patient at a time. I wish that I could affect health policy and research. I miss being seen. Being heard. Being Dr. Alex.
I love blogging, but anyone can start a blog. I never had to explain what medicine is or how I make any sort of living doing it. There is a modicum of respect guaranteed in the mere mention of doctor. We could debate whether it’s deserved (and for most doctors, it is), but it’s understood in way that is not true for staying-at-home or blogging. I never surprised people with my education background when I showed up as a doctor.
And even when I set aside judgement and remember the joys of writing and being with my family, I can’t pretend it was a simple career choice. I had a gift for doctoring. I saw through US and THEM. US, the normal well-adjusted doctors, and THEM, the addict, abused, depressed patients. I knew we were the same. Separated by how we could help each other, but together in this life. A gift not every doctor possesses or maintains. A way to help so many people.
But I gave it up and settled for being a mediocre mother, wife and blogger.
I don’t regret my decision as much as wonder how I could’ve chosen it. Is it pride that makes me want to be the doctor-mother or pride that made me leave medicine years ago? And what happens to a gift when it’s thrown away?
I wish I knew.