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Musings on guilt

Disclaimer: this isn’t a post containing any solutions, just self-indulgent musings.

Guilt: the unhappy feelings caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something wrong – The Oxford Dictionary

Guilt is a topic which comes up in almost every conversation I have with doctors who are pursuing a path beyond the norm. Many still see patients in some capacity yet have still experienced some degree of internal conflict due to not following a typical path.

It is something I identify with acutely. After 13 combined years of med school and work, I finally accepted that clinical medicine was not for me and hung up my stethoscope last December.

If you wanted the truly honest answer about why I decided to study medicine in the first place, it would involve George Clooney in his ER-prime and an idealistic savour complex. I didn’t come from a medical family, have pushy parents or attend a particularly academic school where career paths were foisted upon us. I am entirely to blame for my own fate (and possibly a general lack of decent careers advice, but that is another conversation).

It wasn’t that I hated clinical work. That would have made it easier. There were so many things I loved, I got good feedback and sadistically quite enjoyed those horrendously busy shifts where you barely have time to pee. But it never felt quite right. I can’t recall ever looking forward to going to work and had absolutely no desire to jump the hoops I would need to progress from being a perpetual SHO, despite being driven and ambitious in all other aspects of my life. The thought of doing more medical exams filled me with a deep sense of dread. It got to the point where even helping Paul revise for his ED viva made me break out in a cold sweat. It was time to leave and I don’t regret my decision.

But I feel guilty about it. I feel guilty about my parents who supported me through endless years of university. Guilty that I walked away from a career so many people would love to pursue. Guilty that Paul is financially supporting the pair of us while I work out my next move. This is the first time since I was 14 years old that I haven’t had some kind of regular income.

I know that this is entirely of my own making. My friends and family, other than occasional jibes about my early retirement, have been nothing but supportive. I know that life is short and being happy is the most important thing. I know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to change career direction in my thirties. But it doesn’t stop the niggling feeling of having failed somehow.

Hearing that others feel, or felt, the same way is cathartic, though I worry how many people are out there who are afraid to act because of that sense of guilt. Is that you? Please get in touch if so, I can’t promise to have any answers but there is comfort in numbers. And I have it on good authority that eventually the guilt can be banished!

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