As I was saying in my last post, I left Primary Care Medicine for a host of reasons. That post will be back up soon. You can read it in MedPage Today next week; that's why it's down right now.
I am going to really miss my patients. And I'm going to really miss patient care. The reasons for leaving medicine were all about the crazy, overwhelming administrative burdens and inadequate support, and not because I didn't like patient care. I took care of patients for over 30 years, and during most of that time, I had a lot of joy in practicing medicine. Most of that came from connecting with patients and from the relationships that formed over the years. I was able to help a lot of people and that was very satisfying. In the end, as I was leaving, my patients were a great comfort to me. Many understood how difficult it was for me to reach this decision and they encouraged me to do what was best for me. They told me they wanted me to be happy. This was an enormous gift. I remember one patient's words in particular. She asked me how I was feeling in my last weeks of practice. I said it felt strange, that it was a little frightening to give up something I had known for so long. She said, "Leap, and the net will appear." How magical. I owe so much to my patients.
I walked out of my office in Philadelphia on June 20th. On June 21st, I was on a train to Boston. On the 22nd, I was sitting in a classroom at Lesley University in Cambridge, having an orientation session for the low-residency MFA (Master's in Fine Arts) in Creative Writing that I am now working on. Yeah, that's me. I don't give myself a minute of downtime. In this case, it was just the way things worked out. If I wanted to start this year, I needed to be there on June 22nd. But it was probably for the best. I didn't have much time to think about whether I'd made the right decision.
Writing has been a passion for 20 years. I've written and published many stories, articles and a full-length memoir, and participated in writer's workshops and conferences. I've taught basic Narrative Medicine to med students. I am an avid reader. But I have always wanted formal training in the theory and craft of writing, and to give myself the time and space to write more seriously. Up till now, it's been the afterthought, the thing I did when everything else was done, or that I snuck in for an hour here and an hour there.
A low-residency MFA program works like this: I can go to a program in a different city and completely immerse myself during the 'residential' period, which for us is 9 days at the beginning of each semester for 4 semesters, and then another 9 days at the end, before we graduate. The rest of the time, work is done from home, and emailed to mentors at 4 deadlines during the semester. The mentors have deadlines to email feedback to us as well. There is also reading assigned, and some on-line work, but the bulk of the work is individualized. I am writing Creative Nonfiction, as are about 12 other people in the program, though only a few started at the same time I did. Others are writing fiction or poetry or screenplays. My mentor is a known nonfiction writer, and her critique of my work is incisive, insightful and vastly helpful.
During my 9 days in Cambridge, I learned a tremendous amount. We had seminars, workshops, readings, and conferences 12 hours a day. I came home with lots of new ideas and lots of work to do.
I have so many stories to tell, and now I have new ways to do that. I have new ways to teach others, so when I next teach a medical humanities course, I have a lot more to say!
The best news is that getting my thoughts out in writing has cleared a lot of junk out of my head. I'm going to miss patient care a lot, and maybe I'm going to go back to medicine in some way or another at some point. But for now, I'm finding growth and happiness and learning through