'Quitting' Medicine: How to Do It Thoughtfully

Andrew N. Wilner, MD


August 08, 2019

After suffering from anxiety and a racing heart during her clinical fellowship, Lynn Marie Morski, MD, starting thinking seriously about looking for another career. It took her two bends in the road to find a work situation that really suited her. Medscape contributor Andrew Wilner, MD, recently spoke with Morski about moving from medicine to practicing law to writing her book Quitting by Design.

Before we get into your nonclinical careers, can you tell us a little bit about your clinical career?

Lynn Marie Morski, MD

I started off doing a family medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic and then moved into my sports medicine fellowship at University of Arizona. After a little while in the fellowship, I realized that not everybody is cut out for clinical medicine, for face-to-face patient care.

The way that I realized this was that when I was seeing patients, my heart rate was through the roof. This happened in residency, and then by the time I got to fellowship, I started taking beta-blockers just to slow down my heart so I was not feeling so anxious in clinic. I realized, finally, that I don't have a heart problem. I just think that seeing patients in this manner isn't for me.

I think a lot of people in medical school don't necessarily get the chance to realize that, and sometimes they get a little bit further down the road before they realize that maybe nonclinical care is the way to go. I just happened to be in fellowship when this happened.

And from this, how did you begin to pursue nonclinical careers?

After leaving fellowship, I took a barely clinical position. I was doing compensation and pension exams at the Veterans Administration, which was only 2 days a week. That allowed me to go to law school. After that, I taught law, and I was in a start-up.

When I realized that patient care was not for me, I found a way to strategically quit patient care and figure out what parts of medicine weren't working, and make a career out of the parts that were left. It was the same thing with teaching law and with the start-up. Anytime something was out of alignment, I found a way to strategically quit it and then continue to discover my path. That is what led me to the podcast that I started, called Quit Happens, and to write the book Quitting by Design.

I think a lot of people, myself included, whether it's doctors, lawyers, professionals, can get into these careers that take us years to get through—and a whole lot of what is generally someone else's loan money—and sometimes you feel stuck. We don't know what to do at that point. I wrote the book to give people the tools to quit something and to learn how to do it strategically and successfully.

That is interesting. In thinking of my own career, I never had to quit—well, actually, once—it was more of an evolution. I started out training in internal medicine, and though I liked it, it was not really what I wanted. Then I discovered neurology, trained in it, and then did a fellowship in epilepsy, and that suited me pretty well.

But if I had been forced to say "I quit," I guess I would have had to do that. Because it is not that obvious when you are in medical school, or even college, what you want to be like when you are 40 or older. That might take a while to discover.

So, what are you doing now?

Right now I still host the Quit Happens podcast. I speak about strategic quitting and I coach people—a lot of doctors and other professionals—on the process of strategic quitting. Either I help them through a quit that they are working on or I help them learn the process.

Strategic quitting is something you can use throughout your whole life. It doesn't relate just to jobs. You can strategically quit mindsets, the city you live in, or some toxic friendships or relationships.

Marie Kondo has been the big thing recently. But this is a Marie Kondo method for those friendships, your to-do list, and your mindset. What is not working for you? What isn't sparking joy, as Marie Kondo's show says, so that you can get more in line with your passions and your purpose and your values?

We don't live forever, and as one gets older, that becomes more apparent. It might be worthwhile to maximize the days we have by quitting those things that are not sparking joy. I like that. That's a nice saying.

Can you tell me a little about the doctors that you deal with? What are their stories and why do they come to you?

A lot of them get burned out with medicine. At the Mayo Clinic, I was seeing a patient every 15-20 minutes. That can burn you out so quickly.

And it may just be that they have evolved to another phase of their life. Like you said, who knows when you are in high school or college or med school whether you are going to want to be sitting there face-to-face with patients, or even in the radiology bay or whatever you chose? Are you going to want to be doing that same thing for the next 40-plus years? You might have loved it initially and now you have other passions that you would like to pursue, and medicine or some aspect of it isn't lighting you up anymore.

So I work with them if they want to stay within medicine or on ways to use their degree to help them transition out of medicine. Again, like you say, we are given one life and we are not expected to do the same thing throughout it. That is not the goal anymore, like in the 1950s, when you got a watch if you worked at the bank from when you were 20 to when you were 65. We evolved, and our careers and our relationships can evolve along with us.

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