My Wrenching Decision to Leave Medicine

Dana Corriel, MD


February 26, 2020

Leaving clinical medicine behind wasn't an easy decision to make. The difficulty of this choice weighed heavily on me because I knew it would affect many more lives than just mine when I made it.

For my parents, it was especially hard. They had cheered me on, along the sidelines, with quintessential pride and joy. Their only daughter—an immigrant at the age of 10—had successfully navigated hurdle after hurdle of the treacherous medical journey. When she came out on the "other side" having earned that coveted medical degree, it was pure parental magic at its finest. 

My departure was also difficult on my husband who went through similar arduous steps to jump-start his own medical career. We had done it together, and we always pictured ourselves dedicated until the very end, gray hair and all.

For me, the gray-haired ending had simply arrived prematurely and much sooner than anyone imagined.

Mine was a decision that had been long in the making, as regulation after regulation tightened its grasp where beautiful health decision-making was concerned.

As far as actual closure goes, I didn't end things abruptly. Mine was a decision that had been long in the making, as regulation after regulation tightened its grasp where beautiful health decision-making was concerned. It was the "healthcare noose." 

I stuck with it longer than I had intended to; in fact, I worked through the "burn." I had dedicated my life to healing patients, so it felt like a betrayal leaving them behind.

Protecting their health and happiness ironically kept me from preserving my own. Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, describes this concept beautifully in her New York Times piece, "The Business of Healthcare Depends on Exploiting Doctors and Nurses". My patients were—no, are—not only innocent bystanders in physicians' inner struggle but also the ones ultimately most affected by it.

Sometimes to Step Forward, You Have to Step Back

So no, my decision wasn't an easy one at all. It came about after painstakingly long and drawn-out deliberation. At the end of the day, I needed to turn attention to myself upon realizing the shape I was in required major readjustment.

That's where I am today: staring down the murky abyss of change. The bright side of my exit is that I've taken on a new angle to tackling this and other healthcare issues. Having recognized the power of the online world as the fastest-growing form of communication, I foreshadowed years back that the Internet would serve as a major healthcare connector. As far as I was concerned, I needed to figure out a way to leverage my online skills—skills I discovered on a past stint away from medicine—to empower physicians like myself. 

With burnout at an all-time high, we need to consider a thorough restructuring of how the healthcare system is now run. To do it effectively, we must listen to the valiant warriors of the system (I say this because of the long haul physicians commit to, including financial obligations, missed opportunities, and more) and restore the magic of the basic healthcare relationship: the one between the physician and patient.

Although I leave behind beloved patients and clinical work that sparked relationships I will never forget, I look forward to pursuing a new angle to innovating healthcare. I founded SoMeDocs (short for Doctors on Social Media) 3 years ago in order to give physicians space in which to effectively network, share and discuss tools that can uniquely amplify our voices online, and start making a positive impact both individually and collectively. I hope the rapid growth of our group (while I was working) is indicative of its potential, now that I pivot and dedicate my full time to the cause. 

Here's the bottom line: I may have stopped seeing patients, but I haven't given up on healthcare. What I've experienced over the years of clinical practice has helped me truly value how important human connection is, and it has served to fuel my passion. Among my dreams is to provide a safe space where we can effectively connect, outside of the white coat, in order to spark change. I'm able to do this better now that I've stepped past my own barriers and can lead without restrictions.

Here's to changing healthcare one virtual physician voice at a time.

Dana Corriel, MD, is an internist living in Tenafly, New Jersey; a blogger; and founder of SoMeDocs, promoting the use of social media for physician networking and online growth. She was also featured in Medscape's 20 Top Physician Social Media Influencers.

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