The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)

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Friday, twelve days ago, I left work at the hospital I’ve been at for the past 3.5 years. It was just like going home on any other work day, except that on the following monday I wouldn’t have to wake up with the feeling of dread that’s been there for the last 6 months, or mope around on tenterhooks in the evening, listening out for my phone to ring calling me back into work. And I wouldn’t have to worry about having the ol’ “your loved one is going to die, or worse” conversation with patients’ families. I’m still pinching myself to check if it’s real.

I started in neurosurgery 6 months ago, with high hopes of enjoying the challenge of learning new procedures, dealing with a new set of clinical problems, seeing the amazing anatomy of the central nervous system first hand in theatre. Perhaps I got thrown in at the deep end a little soon because I found myself floundering, and struggling with the emotional strife that accompanies neurosurgical disease and trauma.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I don’t go around idly quitting jobs for the fun of it. It was an agonizing decision, not least because of the idea that we all get fed in medical school, that medicine is a vocation. I certainly felt like it was for me when I started. And you’re not meant to quit a vocation – it’s a bit like leaving the priesthood, I suppose. Quitting a surgical job seemed even worse, in my mind, because I felt like it would be saying I wasn’t strong enough, or smart enough, or good enough for a surgical career.

I was a little surprised by the reception I got, when I finally plucked up the courage to tell my bosses (the surgeons), that I was leaving. Unlike how I had imagined, there was no yelling, no recriminations, no judgement, overtly at least. The common theme was that if you aren’t doing something you enjoy, then you should stop doing it, and that there’s no point in persevering in a tough situation if it’s not going to ultimately lead you to your goal.

That’s one of the good things about medicine, though. I’m extremely lucky to have a qualification that can let me walk away from a job contract without another job lined up, and be confident that I’ll be able to not only survive, but do quite well with a bit of locum work here and there to pay the bills. In the global economic climate, that’s not something to take lightly.

I know there are lots of other disillusioned doctors out there who might be in a similar situation. I’m planning to share my experience in the hope that it might be helpful to you.