The Hobby Of Medicine

crispydoc Uncategorized 8 Comments

The first time I heard medicine referred to as a hobby, it was by my cousin, a corporate attorney who had met her husband while he was still a medical student. He moved into her place for his final year of medical school, then she continued to support him as they started a family during his residency and then a multi-year fellowship.

Despite having several physicians within her cohort in our family, she was more than a little miffed by both the long duration of training and the less than generous remuneration he brought home when she calculated it on a per hour basis.

We were at a party and I was introducing her to a friend. The friend asked my cousin what she did for a living. With a sly wink to me and deadpan delivery, she replied, "I support the hobby of medicine."

Where Are You Going With This?

It's been a transition, but I've found myself going from indulging in the hobby of medicine to actively endorsing medicine as a well-paid hobby for docs that are struggling with burnout. That deserves a bit of explanation, which I intend to approach obliquely and with much digression.

As a high school student, I owned every cassette tape by the 80's band Def Leppard and memorized the lyrics to nearly every song they performed. Not just Hysteria or Pour Some Sugar On Me, but die hard obscure never made the radio songs from albums like On Through The Night.

 Being a Def Leppard fan, the lyrics from Rock of Ages posed a question that has long haunted physicians: Is it better to burn out or fade away?

When I was in the throes of burnout, I wanted to save up and get out of the profession as fast as possible. In fact, the way I stumbled across the financial independence blogosphere was by asking google how much money I'd need to save to retire, like this guy did.

I had planned to use what I learned about personal finance to save up a big nest egg and leave medicine behind forever. In the interim, I began to slowly (dare I say, subversively?) make the job I had into the job I wished I had by putting forward proposals that I thought would improve the lifestyle of the majority of docs in our group.

It turned out I was not alone in feeling that things could be better, and with the support of terrific colleagues, we changed the job to better align with the lives we wanted. The experiment was successful enough that I was able to reduce my clinical load significantly.

As I worked less, it became less a burden and more a joy to enter the department.

Nurses I love (even the cranky ones) now crack a smile when they see me - absence, it seems, really does made the heart grow fonder.

Walking into my shift last week greeted by a 7 rig salute (7 ambulances parked in our ambulance bay) brought back the tingling of the hair on the back of my neck, that excited nausea of drawing my sword as I entered a battlefield.

You're Losing Me With The Incessant Digressions

The verb pique has two different meanings. It can imply stimulated interest or curiosity, but alternately, it can suggest resentfulness and irritation. That pretty much captures the spectrum of my relationship with medicine as I went from full-time to cutting back.

Returning to Def Leppard, I thought I was a done deal to burn out. Instead, I have found unexpected joy in slowly fading away.

At first I just didn't hate medicine.

Next I accepted medicine in its reduced role in my life.

Then I kind of started to read up on cases I saw, as if I were a resident all over again.

Now, medicine has become an interesting thing I get to do outside of my real life - a hobby!

You Never Know When Your Hobby Might Pay Off

It occurred to me, reading my friend Matt Poyner's blog, that practicing the hobby of medicine can provide rewards in unexpected ways.

As part of my bedtime ritual with the kids, I give each child a brief massage to help them relax. During the massage, to keep it interesting, I took to reciting the names of the bones and muscles that comprised the areas of interest, something I started doing one night out of accidental boredom but continued because my daughter loved the exotic way the Latin names sounded.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. My daughter returned from school feeling very positive about that day's science test. She thanked me for modeling the flow of blood through the heart, and felt confident in her answers to all but the extra credit question.

The extra credit question was a diagram with an arrow pointing to the calf. Her teacher, she said, informed them after the tests were collected that the correct answer had been "muscle."

My daughter had filled in the blank with "gastrocnemius."

I did not try to suppress the smile that erupted when she told me this story.

Comments 8

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  1. Hey Crispy Doc. Gastrocnemius – wow, that is next level awesome! I remember when my kids were little, doing the “point to your nose, point to your eyes”. And then adding in “point to your spleen, point to your kidneys” as a funny party trick. Now, we are working on having them identify where the laundry hamper is. Apparently, it is an extra credit level challenge 😉

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      Loonie Doc,

      Laundry hamper agnosia is, alas, a well-recognized phenomenon among this population.
      And apropos of nothing, can I just say I love when you visit?

      Thanks for the encouragement,


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  2. If the kid doesn’t get the extra credit time to get the teach in a head lock. Call up a Netter image on the phone.

    No greater joy than when your kid behaves at an adult level without you having to pound it into them or even knowing they are doing it. My kid is working at a local “Catholic Attic Shop” with the old ladies. The shop serves the hood and is a mainline for people who are poor. The work of mercy is clothe the naked. The old ladies are mostly widows, book of James care for widows. She’s using the experience to learn how to organize and market, and apply her marketing ideas to the people she serves. No money just service. I had no idea she was doing that. I just taught her some chops, wound her up and let her go.

    Re: burn out or fade away, I choose fade away. There is so much life after medicine. There is joy in simply being, and joy in simply being gone. Medicine doesn’t miss me and I don’t miss it. I got a job offer Friday but had to politely decline. I just can’t imagine bothering to get up at 5:15 anymore and feel the bristle on my neck at a schedule of 8 or 9 surgeries before 3 pm. Makes me tired just writing that.

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      No greater joy, indeed. I can envision your daughter as the sole purple hair among the blue hairs, the belle of the ball. Warms the heart, that image.

      Fading away (into the other glorious facets of being) has served you well, my friend. Weird side effect of not having to wake early – I now do so because there are so many cool or interesting things I am eager to read and learn about; a friend to meet up with for a hike or a walk; or a bike ride I want to get in before the morning commute begins.

      I rise earlier than before because the day is so pregnant with promise I can’t wait to have at it.

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