Doctor’s who don’t
Yes I am a doctor…but I don’t see patients.
It’s been a hard journey to break free of societal expectations about being a doctor, and even harder to let go of my own web of shoulds.
When I was 18, for about a minute and a half I thought it would be a good idea to do a medical degree. A decision that would seem in the eyes of society, and in my own eyes, to seal my fate forever.
Judging by the countless questions I have fielded over the years about my work, most people think I should be a GP specialising in women’s and children’s health. That would be the logical space for a mother and a doctor to sit. Many female doctors do just that – and they are very good at it.
But its just not my thing, not my path in life.
How glad I am to have recognised this – because the weight of “shoulds” and expectations pushing me in to that space (from myself and from society) were enormous.
In 2001 I made the brave decision to walk away from being a clinician – but the guilt of having done so – and having walked away from a responsibility has weighed on me for many years.
Every time someone asks me “What type of doctor are you?” – it comes loaded with a little packet of guilt the asker doesn’t even know about.
I try to explain the latest non-clinical role I am doing – whether it’s working in medical writing, research or public health – but the expectation of there only being one type of doctor (one who sees patients) lurks in the corner. “Haven’t you wasted all those years of study?”
But the thing is I’m not the only one.
In the past few weeks I’ve met 3 female doctors who are defying the standard view of what it means to hold a medical degree. And I applaud them all.
One was a paediatric surgeon but is now concentrating on fully being a mother and exploring other interests. One left clinical medicine early in her career and now works in implementing electronic medical records into hospitals. One is segueing from a long career in general practice into the world of research and is doing a PhD in a fascinating area around developing systems to provide better support for GPs.
There are many others I’ve met over the years too – they work in areas such as medical publishing and industry and have carved out all sorts of creative careers beyond seeing patients. And then there are famous doctors doing non-clinical stuff like Norman Swan and Dr Karl.
How would the world look if all these diverse people spent their careers in the traditional way of being a doctor who sits behind a desk and sees patients?
I think the world will be poorer and less colourful for it.
Think about this complex world we live in. Resources are more and more limited – the health budget can’t keep up with demand. We are flooded with information that is difficult to navigate and hard to assess, and the digital transformation of healthcare has barely begun. There are big and important moves to better empowering people in decisions about their own health care. There are so many questions we just don’t know about any aspect of health and healthcare.
To move health care and the health of the community forwards, we need to bridge the space between the traditional health and healing and this new and evolving world we are living in. Who better than medically trained people with other talents and skills to sit in this space and be the facilitators of change.
I am so proud of the work I do in this space. Here are just some of the things I am privileged to do in my work as a consultant to the health and medical services industry:
- I write and make sure health information for consumers published on government and other credible websites (and many other places) is accurate and helpful.
- I have developed systems for other medical writers and editors to ensure the health information they write is accurate and helpful.
- I have helped organisations develop systems to maintain their health information and make sure they saying the same thing in different places.
- I have helped organisations develop ways to measure if their interventions have made improvements in the way healthcare is delivered.
- I am helping a software company engage with the healthcare industry with a product that holds a lot of promise in helping clinicians see how well they are doing in providing healthcare.
It’s a diverse set of activities. So in this context: Should I be seeing patients? No. Have I wasted all those years study? No. Am I using my medical degree? Every single day. Am I helping people? Yes! But it’s helping the community rather than individuals. And that’s an OK thing to do. Because if through all this I can help your doctor do a better job for you – then we are all winning.
It’s been a long journey to get to this space of self-acceptance about doing what I’m good at, about playing to my strengths and living in my own skin.
It has been wonderfully freeing to shed all those “shoulds” about clinical medicine. I’m now more productive and better able to make my unique contribution to the work than I was spending life looking over my shoulder. It’s really a wonderful space and empowering space. It’s a privilege to have found a way to be authentically me – and bring my knowledge, talents and skills together in a unique way.
So yes – I am doctor and I don’t see patients. I do other amazing stuff instead. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.