20 Jun Finding a new me!
In 2010 I retired from being a pediatric cardiac surgeon due to increasing health concerns and a dissatisfaction in practicing medicine. I had serious risk factors of heart disease from my father affecting not only myself but my siblings. Working over 60 hours a week, having the daily stress of being a pediatric cardiac surgeon, adding sleep deprivation of too many nights on call, I thought, after reflecting back with my wife, that time had come for a major change in my life.
Over the years, I slowly came to realize that I held a belief about medicine, about being a doctor, which was not meeting my core personality anymore. I had become a surgeon with the belief that I was doing something important, ie, saving children’s life. This belief started to erode as I progress in the latter part of my career, following a series of adversarial events. That belief, that had guided my entire career and life, no longer held up under the scrutiny of life in retirement. I was in practice with another pediatric cardiac surgeon providing cardiac care for the children of British Columbia. As possible in many practice groups of multiple surgeons, one can ease into retirement by stopping call work, working part time or a combination of, with the agreement of the practice group. It was not an option in my practice so I planned over 2 years and when the hospital found a replacement, I left.
I tried actively to shed my identity as a physician and capture the dream of my youth, to be a beach bum on the shores of Laguna Beach. I bought a condominium in Palm Spring and certainly visited the beaches, bicycling around and enjoying the warm and sunny skies of Southern California. I traded my suit, shirt and tie for T-shirt and shorts.
For a while, about 1 ½ year, that did the trick and I found the freedom to explore a sense of myself that was more than being “Dr. Jacques LeBlanc, Cardiac Surgeon”. I also found after coming out of my drunkenness of beach life style and sunny skies, that in my attempt to live my dream I was quick to dismiss and marginalize my contribution to the lives of many patients, friends, family and colleagues that I had cared for and worked with for over 40 years. I was at an impasse and felt the old tendrils of dissatisfaction creeping around me again.
Never one to sit around and wait for things to happen, I had to find “new clothes” to wear. The T-shirt and short style did not fit so well anymore but I had really thrown the suit and tie far away. I was confused at how to re-integrate the medical field but in a way satisfying my current medical belief. I was still a doctor after all, and I had a career of accomplishment. How to put it to fruition? I decided that exploring new life opportunities with a psychologist would be a possibility, but a scary one. I was not a touchy-feely type of person, but my wife agreed to come along. Out of the blue searching on Internet, I found a PHD psychologist who turned out to be insiteful, mature, ……… A professional relationship of 2 years started and lead to analyzing my career, my personality, my desire, my potential plans and new ones. It was a great awakening which help me understand how to be a doctor again, but a different one, one I was searching and looking forward to grow into. And I did.
Next step, I wrote a book about “Medicine for Life: a practical guide for success”. I put all of my career knowledge and more under one cover. It lead to a series of lecture for doctors and students. Another book is on the way. As physicians, we are healers who seek everyday to make the lives of our patients and families better so that they can go on to live their own dreams, big or small. As a thought leader in my profession, I have come to realize the importance of identifying the influences and removing barriers that lead to physician burnout and disengagement within our healthcare system. These barriers are not just in the system, but they are also in the way we choose to deal with them. Power is in our choice, changing our mind is what we have control over. We ultimately are in charge of our life. Here was my new expression of being a doctor again and help others.