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Wednesday
Jun222011

Leaving MD Behind

"How do you answer when someone asks what you do?"

For the past few months, I've been thinking about how to answer this question when I leave my job at ACPE by the end of the year.  I've been trying out various answers to see what makes me feel most comfortable, and doesn't cause a puzzled look and create a lot more questions from the questioner. 

After more than three years as CEO of ACPE, having accomplished the goals the Board and I set at the start of the recession much faster than we thought possible, I decided it was time to spend more days at home in New Mexico, finish some projects that have been on hold for years, and work part-time - not full-time - in health care.  Leaving my staff in Tampa, who have been so vital to our success during some of the most difficult years in the American economy since the Great Depression, will be the hardest part. 

Many people couldn't understand why anyone would decide to leave a great job when things are going well.  Answering "I want to try a new challenge" doesn't make sense to some, but it's what's pulling me to make the change.  The word "pull" is very important.  As I thought of the days spent away from our home in the mountains of New Mexico, what I was missing in personal relationships, building a network of friends, neighbors, and creative people in my home state, and the time to scratch some itches, I realized that it was time to take the next step in my life experience.  

When neighbors, new acquaintances, or airplane passengers ask me what I do now, I usually reply, "I run a company in Florida".  That works.  If I say, "I'm a physician", the next question is, "What's your specialty, or where do you practice?"  Answering "I don't practice", or "administration" doesn't usually contribute to an interesting conversation.  It's awkward.

Most everyone has a stereotype for what a physician should do: take care of patients.  Like many of the authors and readers of the FreelanceMD blog, we don't fit that stereotype.  We find challenge and excitement doing something other than that.

Since I plan to do more writing, maybe I should reply, "Freelance writer."  The label that feels most comfortable, creative, and stimulates my energy most is "stonemason".  It's a hobby that's turned to an obsession after 30 years.  I've been studying the piles of boulders and stones that have been sitting in my yard for the past year, knowing exactly where each one will go in the stone projects that are underway at home.  Now I'll have the time to actually do it - not just think about it!

It's hard to take steps away from your professional role as a physician.  I don't need my MD to define who I am.  It's taken me awhile to get to this point in my career.  No wonder, with the not-so-subtle expectations of our medical training, family, and friends, who expect us to fit a certain mold. 

My wife is getting used to hearing me say "stonemason" when a new acquaintance asks what I do.  She just smiles, and enjoys the lively discussion about the art of stonemasonry that follows.   

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