Coming clean…

Obvious confession:

The blog has been a bit of a ghost town for the last few months.  You’re aware, I’m aware. Twitter hasn’t been an echo chamber, but I’ve not been as present there either.

Not-so-obvious confession to most:

Professional life has been messy and hard, and I’ve struggled with how to process that. Heart and Brain provide a near-perfect summary of what it’s been like (though I’m not sure the brown stuff would have been quicksand had I drawn them).

Personal life has been fine, great even. I have professional friends whom I’ve entrusted with what has been going on and who have been amazing advocates and supporters. I have other professional friends who haven’t been in the loop on things but who have consistently reached out with a kind word when I’ve needed it most (serendipity, FTW!). I have running  friends who have stuck with me when I’ve stopped for an ugly cry in the middle of a 10K. I have friends who have been around seemingly forever who are simply there and constant and kind. While you might not think that in your late 40s your sorority sisters would provide a life raft for you, they have done precisely that. As I told one of them a few weeks ago, “ADPi has saved my sanity the last 18 months.” Mom is great and healthy.  Dad is navigating the indignities of Parkinson’s with grace. Other than Belle!’s anxiety (maybe she’s channeling for me?), the animal support team is awesome. If you look at the ledger strictly from this side, I’m incredibly fortunate, and I won’t deny that. I am grateful for all of these things every day.

Then there’s the professional side.  Lots of things on the “good” side of the ledger there too. I work with the best team that anyone could ask for.  I take care of the most remarkable and resilient people that I could ask to be entrusted to care for. It’s a rare day for me to walk through clinic or the burn unit without getting a hug from a patient, family member, or both. Outside of my clinical work, I’ve been entrusted with leadership roles that I consider both a privilege and an honor. Again, these are the things that keep me going and for which I am grateful.

And yet…there’s this body of literature (which I am in the process of contributing to) that describes why women leave academic surgery and academic medicine. That literature has become intensely personal over the last 6-9 months for me. I’ve found incredible irony that the system that I’m trying to help fix, to make more equitable, has nearly chewed me up and spit me out. While I always found it tragic that many talented women were exiting academic surgery, even 10 years or more into what should have been remarkable careers, I now “get” how this happens. I would be a liar if I didn’t say I’ve thought about walking off. I don’t do disappointment and disillusionment well.

So what?

I’m still working on the answer to this question. What I do know is that I’ve moved past taking it all personally and simply being hurt. If anything, I’m realizing how important some of the intellectual work that I started out to do a few years ago truly is and that it’s time for me to double down on those efforts. I’m focusing more on my core mission(s) and doing the things that are the most meaningful to me. And I’m reminding myself at the close of every single day of those things I am grateful for; there are plenty of them, and they help maintain that sense of purpose that I need.

If you’ll excuse me now, I’m off to tilt at some windmills.  Thanks for joining me.

6 thoughts on “Coming clean…

  1. Thank you for your blog, Dr. Cochran. As a medical student going into a surgical field, I’ve had found reading it to be very helpful these past four years. And thank you for taking the time to write about topics that many in our profession keep to themselves. I think it’s only when we are able to open up as a group and address the challenges we all face that we will find systemic solutions. I’m grateful you are willing to be someone who opens up to the rest of us.

    1. Andrew, thank you. You and your peers are a huge part of why I keep forging ahead with it all.

    1. Joe, I’ll put that idea in the hopper. One of my resident mentees came over after the Earthquake and learned a TON about healthcare capacity. It was both eye-opening and inspiring for him.

  2. Thank you for your honesty as well as your continued dedication to our field. As someone who is finishing up training soon, I appreciate hearing from women who are ahead of me about both the joys and the challenges that lie ahead. I’m not sure if knowing what lies ahead will help me to make better decisions or will just help me be more emotionally prepared, but either way I appreciate the honesty. And FYI- I feel like I know through a few degrees of separation… Both Mike Peck and Patrick Bailey are mentors of mine from days of residency in Phoenix. I’ll introduce myself next time we are at a meeting together!

    1. Yes, we must meet in person!
      And thank you…I think it’s important for those coming behind me to know that (1) it’s not easy, and that’s normal and (2) there are plenty of us out here who care A LOT about making it better.