Uncertainty: How do you deal with it?

Hello all,

Summer is upon us and for many, this means you are starting the application cycle, filling out applications, taking the MCAT or starting residency. Things are new, you are embarking on a new journey and not sure how things will pan out. How do I know? I’ve been there and oddly enough, I’m there now.

You see, just because you become an attending, it doesn’t mean that is the end of life changing and needing to shift. Sadly, I have to break it to you that things can and will change and it’s normal to feel unsure or uncertain. I’d like to share with you my situation and how I’m coping with uncertainty as a working anesthesiologist, spouse and mom.

Long ago in the dark ages of residency, I was trying to envision a future where I kept my passions alive (music, family) AND working as an anesthesiologist. It seemed impossible as I was barely keeping my head above water with working and being a new mom. I just saw a dark future and really had to visualize better times to make it through. Along the way I had many jobs, bounced around and experienced many disappointments with my working situations and environments. I didn’t anticipate ever having to quit, change jobs or move anywhere. In residency and as a medical student, I thought you just get a job and stay there and everything is perfect and happily ever after. I came to find out that instead, I was experimenting and finding what is the best fit for me and my family.

Recently I’ve once again realized it’s time to shift and return to my specialty of pain management as I’ve been practicing OR anesthesia in a great group for the past year. I’ve had such a challenge finding the right environment to practice in while staying in the place I want to live. Many have suggested – just open a practice – as if it’s that easy. I will write more on this later as the current landscape in medicine requires so much of independent physicians that its designed to make it hard to survive. I’ve doggedly insisted on not moving and on not having a practice because of the work, money, time and commitment involved. I wanted to pursue locum tenens (temporary work) but this didn’t pan out either.

So now I’m left in an uncertain place. I know I need to move on and practice in my specialty, but there’s no opportunities that fit my needs or that fit my practice style. So- I’m continuing to pray, soul search and open myself to more opportunities. I’m exploring more practices in other locations and I’m simultaneously drawing up plans for a solo practice.

I’m writing mission statements and really envisioning what an ideal Pain practice would be. I am passionate about being part of the solution of the opioid crisis and I am a believer in non opioid adjunctive pain medications, interventional pain procedures, physical therapy, occupational therapy, mental health strategies, exercise, regenerative medicine and other strategies that emphasize a multimodal approach to pain management. I’m in a place with a lot of competition and I am currently assessing the landscape I’m in and feasibility of opening a practice that will thrive and serve patients well.

So, I’m right in the thick of it. I don’t have an answer today, but trust me I know what it’s like to be uncertain and not knowing the future. I trust that God knows what is best and that I will find my way. I am trusting that for all of you as well.

Stay strong, keep pushing, studying and striving to be your personal best no matter what stage you are in. It can and WILL get better.

Email me at premedconsultants@gmail.com or reply to this post about your uncertainty and where you are right now. This is a safe space and we should be able to share with each other. I’m here for a listening ear and to answer any questions you have about the path to becoming a physician.

All the best in your endeavors,

Candice Williams, MD D. ABA
Premed Consultants

It’s About Time

Hello All,

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written. In all honesty, I’ve been contemplating what to write about, and what would helpful to students. I’ve been spending time concentrating on being a good physician, wife, mother and adjusting to life changes.

During the early part of my blogging, I moved and transitioned my family back to our original home. It took a lot of sacrifices and required me to not only quit my job, but to decide to leave a less than ideal situation in order to do so. Things appeared not quite right early on, but I stayed in order to keep the peace for my family’s sake. Eventually, the toxic environment took a toll on my health and well being, and I would argue that of my family as well. This year, I decided it was about time to put myself and my family first.

This meant that I had to have the courage to leave a seemingly cush, coveted job that was “comfortable” with guaranteed salary and choose one in which I was paid only when I worked. I gave up benefits, pensions and loads of “stability”. What I traded it for was my sanity and my freedom. I needed an environment where I was free to be creative in other pursuits and where I was not tolerated, but celebrated. This was not without sacrifice. I gave up so much, and I had to re-immerse myself in my core specialty of anesthesiology. I was practicing pain medicine for the prior 2-3 years, and yes, this is a different specialty entirely. It involves clinic, continuity of care and procedures that you need specialized training to do. I enjoyed this work and the training, but the environment just wasn’t right for me.

After I left, I joined a group that provides intra-operative anesthesia services. I hadn’t worked in this capacity for a couple of years and jumping over this hurdle seemed like I was scaling Mt. Everest! With a supportive boss and fantastic colleagues, I was able to bridge this seemingly unsurmountable gap and become an OR anesthesiologist once again. It never left, but truly it was like riding a bike.

I did this for myself, my sanity, and my family. We needed to move back home and my job environment was truly toxic for me. I had to choose life and choose myself. This took grit and sacrifice, but so far it has been well worth it. I tell this story from the perspective of what it is like to be a physician and the realities. Even as an attending physician, you still have to find your place and the right fit for your career and interests.

What are the takeaways from my story? There are several –

  1. Don’t be afraid to choose yourself. Your profession will be there, but if you aren’t ok, you won’t be. Make decisions based on your core beliefs and those that serve your needs. When you are in training, this can be difficult to do. Don’t forget to seek help and especially mental health services.
  2. Training in a subspecialty gives flexibility. In anesthesiology, pain medicine gives the option for work in the procedure suite, the clinic, or in the operating room as well. Research is also another way to add dimension to your specialty and to your work. There are academic positions, private practice opportunities and jobs at large conglomerates. Do your research and consider what environment is best for you.
  3. Whenever there is transition or change, there is sacrifice involved. Sometimes this requires courage, doing some things that are uncomfortable and there is definitely a period of transition. Give yourself grace to adjust.
  4. If something is wrong, admit it. Don’t simply stay in a job because you need to pay your bills or because you have to. Save up, prepare yourself and make plans to transition. You owe it to yourself to be happy, healthy and whole.

I hope sharing my story helps some of you out there realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel. One day, you will be able to make these types of decisions. Being a physician gives you the freedom to choose and to change. I can be an independent contractor, own a business, be a consultant and do many things that feed my soul. Don’t listen to those who say it doesn’t get better than medical school or residency. It does get better. When you have the chance to make career decisions, make sure you choose for yourself and get informed about your options. It’s important to choose for yourself and your own wellness.

Enjoy your family and friends in this holiday season,

Candice Williams, MD. DBA

Premed Consultants

 

What’s it like to be a Doctor?

I’ve been asked this more than a few times. The other question I get a lot is – “How did you become a doctor”? The answer to both questions is – It’s a lot of hard work! I know, I know – that’s not the answer you wanted or were even looking for. I know you wanted to hear some scintillating stories about how I save lives and then meet the love of my life and have a steamy romance and then go to the bar afterwards… oh – wait that was Grey’s Anatomy.  The reality is that being a doctors isn’t fun or sexy the way they make it look on TV. It is however, gratifying in the way that something is when you’ve prepared your whole life it seems and then you are there to help someone in their time of need.
I’ve had a long journey in medicine and believe it or not the learning continues as long as you continue to practice medicine.
A little about me. I started my education at UC Berkeley as a premed student, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I was from South LA and had no doctors in my family, but I was determined to be one. I was sickly as a child and had my fair share of time spent in hospitals. I noticed that while my pediatrician was nice and I wanted to be like her, I didn’t see any physicians that looked like me. I wondered many times could I do it or could I make it?
At UC Berkeley I participated in Biology Scholars Program which was a program that helped underserved students and those who demonstrated need for extra support in the sciences. I was thrilled to have a community of students striving just like me to learn more and give back to their communities. The support that I received there was immense and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They had extra study sessions, seminars and just moral support which I desperately needed as a lonely premed student. I had a good number of friends and we spurred each other on, studying day and night for the MCAT and taking it on PAPER !!!!! (OMG)
Amazingly we made it together and pulled through. I attended medical school at UCLA and then residency in anesthesiology as well. These training experiences were tough, long hours, no sleep, taking care of patients into the wee hours. It instilled the ability to push aside my needs for someone else who couldn’t fend for themselves and to give them outstanding care day or night. It hurt, but the training I received at UCLA was again priceless. All these experiences, including my fellowship training, prepared me to make autonomous decisions regarding patient’s care. It taught me to study the evidence, read research articles, discuss with colleagues and formulate my own opinion with evidence to back it up. My training helped instill confidence that I can make the appropriate decisions I need to for a patient’s wellbeing.
Now, being an attending, I am still constantly updating my skills, learning new things, attending workshops, doing continuing medical education (which is required) and making sure I am equipped to keep doing what is best for patient care. This is the focus of medicine.
So, as a premed, how do you know if medicine is right for you? One clue is if you consider that you are asking to make decisions that affect patients’ lives, does that make you cringe? Does it make you a little scared? I think it should to some degree. But if it makes you run away…then maybe this isn’t right for you. Having a healthy fear and respect for what we do I think is key to being successful. As an anesthesiologist, I am dealing with life and death decisions often. I have to have a healthy respect for this aspect of what I do. I have to check, double check, triple check, plan and anticipate. It is no passive sport. All fields of medicine aren’t the same as this, but in general, what differentiates a physician is being someone who makes decisions and takes ownership and responsibility.
So – do you still want to do it?? I thought so. Keep up the hard work. Fight the good fight. Keep studying, keep going. You will be a doctor yet.