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The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Mic...

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Warning: contains strong work angst, so if you’re more keen on food and recipes than life crises I’d suggest skipping this post :).

My parents were very religious – in fact, my dad is an ordained minister in a Presbyterian church. I accepted all their religious instruction at face value when I was younger, but reaching adulthood, going to uni, thinking things through for myself a bit more led me to relinquish all of that to the point where I’m at the atheist end of the agnostic spectrum (I find it difficult to commit – maybe a subconscious and irrational fear I’ll be struck by lightening if I do…). Still there’s a lot of Christian rhetoric that finds it’s way into my thought processes, often without realising, just because it was so ingrained in my early years. Grist for the sceptic mill on religious education of children I think.

I’ve been reflecting on my attitudes to work at lot in the last six months or so – ever since I began hating it, I guess. What my parents taught me from the Bible was that work became a chore for us following the fall of Adam and Eve, back when they messed it up supremely (geez, those pome fruit can look inviting sometimes though). Suddenly, their life’s work was going to be hard, and thankless, and (seems just a tad spiteful), even the task of going forth and multiplying became fraught with pain. Here’s a quote to show you what I mean:

Genesis 3:16

New International Version (NIV)

 16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

So there. Practically, that got translated into: work may be hard and unenjoyable, but that’s life and you just gotta suck it up. We had to keep working because it was a task given to us by God. Add to that all the proverbs about the lazy worker ending up cold and hungry and usually in hell at the end, although, I dare say there is some truth to the cold and hungry bit.

The other side of the coin was that our work should be serving others. The decision I made to become a doctor was made in direct response to a sermon my Dad gave when I was 14, about using our careers to serve God through serving others. I’d already been leaning towards the science side of things, nursing didn’t appeal, medicine seemed like the natural choice. Dad’s point was that there are some jobs that are higher in the altruism scale, and some that aren’t. He wasn’t too specific, not wanting to offend people, but being a gossip column writer didn’t rate too highly in his opinion.

So all of that is the backstory to the career dilemmas I’m facing now. Those ideas – an expectation that work was going to be hard and unenjoyable (such a puritan idea – and don’t think about leavening that unenjoyment with a tote or two of wine at the end of the day, either), and a moral imperative to serve other people through your career – mean that I hit a brick wall when I contemplate a bold move like trying something outside of medicine.

Mind you, it’s not purely a religious throwback – in med school there’s almost an indoctrination into the belief that what we do is a vocation, rather than just a job. That there is intrinsic nobility in being a doctor. There are definitely doctors who would fit that description – people who have forsaken cushy private hospitals, or teaching hospitals and the enormous remuneration that can be achieved, to work out in rural or remote regions, or overseas in developing countries with little monetary or psychological support, being constantly on call and so on. I certainly admire the work they do.

But that’s not me. And I feel guilty that I don’t want to do that. And that I don’t want to spend my life being on call, getting up early for ward rounds, working late into the night, not getting to see my family, having to make tough decisions about having children, or where to live. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve thought to myself “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this shit” – usually dealing with snooty nurses, or arrogant, shouty bosses, or petulant, abusive patients (from either end of the socioeconomic spectrum).

I had a job interview this week, to go back and do another unaccredited registrar year at the hospital I’ve been at for the last 4 years. I aced it (pity I couldn’t do that for the SET interview). I’ll definitely have a job offer to start in January, in fact the head of the department indicated he’d like me to start ASAP. Maybe I’ll feel differently with a few more months of leisure time, but right now the last thing I feel like doing is going back to work. I’m just not sure what else I could do. Some options:

1) Continue with surgical assisting – mainly orthopaedic lists at the moment. Pros are it pays well, you just turn up, work the list, leave at the end of the day, invoice the patient, get paid. The cons are it doesn’t lead anywhere, and I don’t know how long I could do it without getting bored.

2) General practice. Actually, that’s not really an option. I’d rather go back to neurosurgery.

3) Emergency medicine – Pros are the training scheme is more flexible, cons are lots of night shifts. And I’ve never enjoyed working in the ED.

4) Go back to uni. A Masters might be interesting. But if by coursework I’d have to pay tuition fees, and I’m not sure I’ve got the skills for a research degree (which would come with a scholarship). And I’m not sure what careers avenues would be served by the really interesting one on Culture, Health and Medicine.

5) Wild card – something completely different. Cooking? Baking? Who knows.

The other consideration which I haven’t mentioned yet, is that S is busy finishing off his PhD, and will be applying for post-doc positions, which may be as far flung as Europe or the US.

I used to think all the difficult career decisions would be taken care of by this stage. Turns out they just get harder.

Anyone out there been in a similar situation?