Why a FIRE Doctor Wants to Continue Working After We Re-enter our New Normal

(FIRE=Financial Independence Retire Early/Recreational Employment)

Why would a FIRE doctor who came out of retirement to work during a global pandemic want to continue working once it’s over?

Glad you asked. 😉

The first two blogs of this three-part series were the most emotionally difficult blogs I’ve written to date. Thankfully, this third blog was much easier to write since I have so many reasons why I want to stay in the medical workforce:

(Before we proceed: Please be aware there may be affiliate links in this post. Although they won’t cost you any extra, the could bring in a small commission to help support this blog)

My Burnout is about 90% Gone:

Taking a Sabbatical was exactly what we needed half a year before Covid-19 hit.

Well, let me rephrase that. DH took a Sabbatical. I was mentally preparing to say “Peace OUT!” ” to medicine and transition full time to a writing career.

This is the part where I say God is laughing, as obviously, that’s not what happened.

Regardless, I’ve learned so much this past year and a half from the in-depth reading I’ve done that I’m now able to reframe how I view my work.

Sabbaticals are great times to pause and take stock of what’s working and what’s not. You can visualize the way forward with what you want your career to be—changes for the better while you set your intention daily to follow through with your plan. If you had a job that was a bad fit, these reflective times off can also be a season of healing.

For now, I want to continue working in this field as a form of service to my local community. It’s a privilege to be a servant leader, even if it means physically grueling twelve-hour shifts where my feet feel like they’re about to fall off. It’s a blessing that families let me serve them in their hour of need, allowing me at their bedside to guide and help them with my knowledge.

It’s NOT the VA:

I spoke with a retired VA colleague in my present department about our experiences working at the VA. We both agreed that we’d seen the writing on the wall at the VA regarding their waning support for Hospice and Palliative Medicine care. Where our specialty had once been in vogue, it had been shunted aside. Focus—and hence funding and support staff—has been shifted to other specialties.

It’s hard to do your job when there’s little ancillary support.

People at My New Job are a Lot Less Toxic:

See the title above: “It’s Not the VA” 😉 (To be honest: the VA is hit or miss about being a hostile work environment—it’s department specific.)

The inpatient medical teams at my new job are ecstatic when I show up. Their tired faces light up with joy, and smiles spread across their faces.

The Calvary has arrived!” Or “Oh, thank God you’re here!” are the two most common responses I get when I identify who I am to a patient’s medical team member.

People are actually appreciative and happy to see us and tell us so. We are there to do the tough job that most medical personnel don’t want to—and certainly don’t have the time—to do.

Plus, these palliative care cases are amongst the most difficult in the entire state. The daily consults I get here make the most challenging cases of my fellowship training look like a breeze. Although it’s heartbreaking for the patients, doctors love the intellectual challenge of seeing the “Zebra cases.”


My Department is Amazing:

Hospice and Palliative Medicine has been a calling in my life. I’ve been doing extra palliative care work since I was a third-year med student, to the point of traveling to Tanzania to work under my mentor. He was there helping to set up hospices all over East Africa, including Rwanda.

After nearly two decades of this type of exposure, I’ve observed a lot of hospice and palliative care departments. It took me a while to realize what I wished someone had told me at the start. Many people go into Hospice and Palliative Medicine not because they have a heart and passion for helping the sick and dying, but because they’re burned out from the rest of medicine. They think it’s ‘easy’ to work with dying people.

Folks, death and dying bring out the absolute best and the most horrific worst in people.

Anyway, I digress. All that just to say, I have an outsider’s perspective on the current department I joined. It’s the most well run team I’ve seen and is being steered in excellent, capable hands. The team members have also been granted psychological safety that allows them to feel heard and validated. (If you don’t know—or have never seen—what psychological safety is in a hospital, read this book by Charles DuHigg.)

I already talked about one of my woo-woo empath premonitions in the first blog in this series. I had another one in the fall of 2019: that I absolutely had to meet with a doctor who’d left medicine for seven years. For some reason, I knew deep in my soul he had something important to tell me.

He graciously met with me and cautioned me to not give up my license. He told me not all of American medicine is toxic. The key is being able to find a non-hostile work environment.

I’ve been working in the American medical system in one form or another since 1995. I knew trying to find a friendly work environment was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

But I finally found one of those jobs. It’s a breath of fresh air to know functional, non-toxic work environments actually do exist in America.

I feel beyond blessed to be in this new stage of my life.

I Already Knew My Core Values:

If you know what your core values are, it helps make difficult decisions easier. I almost chickened out on returning back to the workforce. It was a difficult decision that I struggled mightily with.

Thankfully I have a group of wise female writers who infused me with their wisdom when I asked for advice. That—and knowing one of my core values is fulfilling my duties—helped me set foot back into a hospital during a global pandemic.

From reading Stop Physician Burnout by Dike Drummond, MD, I also knew that one of the things I missed most from my VA work were the bedside visits with patients and their families. Those encounters were a chance for me to express empathy, something all too often missing in the modern, rushed Practice of medicine. In my new job, I get those tremendously fulfilling bedside visits back.

My New Hospital System Actually Means What it Says!

As a prior hospitalist, my comfort level and heart has always resided with inpatient medicine. When I returned to inpatient work, I encountered a workplace that actively backed up their values about patient care—instead of the usual parroting most hospital systems do.

They back their values up with a keystone habit: they installed hooks for white coats outside the patients’ rooms along with signs for doctors to not wear their (germ-infested) white coats into patient rooms. This one habit of protecting the patients has a ripple effect on improving patient outcomes.


I get to teach:

I tremendously enjoy teaching med students again. They’ve responded enthusiastically to my ‘this is what I wish someone had told me at your stage’ informal lecture. I do a brief overview of self-care, asset protection, finances, and burnout prevention. The students say it’s the most useful lecture they’ve ever gotten from an attending (that reaction disturbs me a bit as what does it say about our medical education?!).

I also give them a short reading list of books they need to read before residency. And I make sure they know how to get ahold of me later so I can help them with writing their personal statements for residency applications. Since I love editing, it’s a total blast.


I Have a Work Wife:

One of the other per diem physicians asked me if I’d be interested in job sharing with her. I immediately said yes, as we have similar work backgrounds, so it’s easier to know the other’s style. We also communicate well with each other, so cross-coverage is much easier.

This arrangement has turned out to be mutually beneficial. Both of us are in different stages of life where we’re still caretakers. We’ve been able to be ‘on standby’ to cover the other’s shifts when there’s a caretaking emergency on either end. I am so thankful for her and this arrangement.


Another Reason so Big it Morphed into a Fourth Blog Post in this Series

You’ll have to return for this reason. 😉 Don’t worry—it’s already scheduled to publish in 2022.


In Conclusion:

Instead of dismantling my soul every time I step foot in the door, this is a job that sustains me.

As horrible as this pandemic has been, there have been wonderful things that have come out of it. And I’m not the only doctor who left and came back.

What types of post-traumatic growth have you experienced from this pandemic?

(If you’re interested in becoming even healthier and more resilient in 2022, return here on 11/24/21 for a reading list. Or, subscribe using the button below, and it will automatically show up in your mailbox on that day, as it’s already been scheduled to publish then. That way, you can be all set to jump into your 2022 goals.)

4 thoughts on “Why a FIRE Doctor Wants to Continue Working After We Re-enter our New Normal”

  1. “It’s a breath of fresh air to know functional, non-toxic work environments actually DO exist in America.” This is SUCH a sad statement. It’s the reason I totally discouraged my son from going into medicine. It makes me weep for my profession. I’m glad you found a gem in the swamp that is the practice of medicine now.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and the comment. I hear you. Gems do exist, they’re just too hard to find these days…

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