Does My Work Define Me?

My wife occasionally tells me about an online forum for those who have questions about investments, retirement and similar issues. I usually just half-listen and once I looked it up and dismissed it because the group is called the “Bogleheads,” and, heck, that’s not the way to spell “boggleheads.”

Dr BobbleheadI realized later I was confusing “boggleheads” with “bobbleheads.”

But the other day, she mentioned a question from an investor who posted a soul-searching question: “Does your work define you?” I think I found the thread she was referring to, which I’ll highlight here as the link Bogleheads on work defining us.

I took special notice of one of the comments, “Becoming a physician is a whole life commitment. It is an entirely different way of thinking about the world.”

I tend to agree with that. But I wonder just what exactly is different about it and what does it mean to think in an entirely different way about the world?

In light of that comment, I find myself mulling over retirement and wondering if I could tolerate it, given that becoming a physician is what I’ve been doing all of my career. On the other hand, almost every day I encounter barriers to providing the evidence-based care patients deserve. I keep asking myself, “What battles are worth fighting and winnable on behalf of my patients?”

How do I protect them from dubious, non-evidence-based treatments which often involve polypharmacy with drugs that can be lethal in accidental or intentional overdose, and from communication failures with them, their families, and with other members of the healthcare team? How do I navigate the bewildering and growing morass of paperwork, empty busywork from regulatory capture, government and managed care intrusions and restrictions and what appears to be the eroding respect for the practice of medicine?

Can “a whole life commitment” be erased by retirement? If my work defines me, how do I let that dream go?

2 thoughts on “Does My Work Define Me?

  1. Yes Jim – you walk away and forget about it.

    One person can only do so much. Recall the Jack Nicholson character in About Schmidt. Here you have a guy who worked his entire life for an insurance company. He viewed himself (and his files) as a critical part of the organization. When he finally leaves and finds himself gravitating back toward the office – it is a rainy day and he sees all of his files sitting out in the alley being rained on. His wife surprises him with an RV and they plan on traveling and he finds her dead.

    It is obviously an individual decision, but I have seen too many colleagues worked to death and never making it to retirement. I think you have to sacrifice too much with a physician lifestyle to not be able to stop at some point and catch up with what you have missed. One of the dynamics I find myself pondering is the amount of time I have worried about patients and their families compared to my own. Nobody else has to do that. You are still a physician in retirement. You think the same and view the world the same way. You just don’t have to take call and meet productivity demands.

    I know what putting out fires at a big medical center is like.

    Pick a date and stick to it.

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