How soon is too soon?

17 Apr 2019

“Fifty percent of physicians leave their first job within 5 years.”  This statistic rang through my head as I sat looking at the computer screen.  My mentor from fellowship had emailed me and asked me to come interview for a job.  I was only 1.5 years into my first job. Was I really going to consider doing this? Was I going to become a statistic?  While I was not actively looking for a job, if I was honest with myself I wasn’t happy at work. I had dreamed of being a burn surgeon and my current job was almost 50% trauma and emergency general surgery.  Initially I had been happy to keep and develop my general surgery skills, but was beginning to feel I was not growing as much in my burn practice as I had hoped. However, my family was happy. Was I willing to move them again? I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I did eventually take the job after being at my first job for 2.5 years.

Throughout this process I was very conflicted.  I was excited. The new job was my dream job, the one I had wished for since I had decided to become a burn surgeon and it was not the type of job that came along very often.  I was sad. I loved the people I worked with and I knew that I would miss many of them terribly. I was worried. I knew that there would be ramifications for my career, but how much would my career progress be hindered by changing jobs? I felt like a success and a failure all at the same time.

But perhaps the worst thing, that no one who has gone through this tells you, was how completely and utterly alone I felt.  People at work did not know what was going on for much of the process, and once they did know it was not really something I was comfortable talking about with them.  My family was supportive and we spoke often of what the move would mean for the family, but we almost never spoke of my inner turmoil and feelings of doubt I experienced about the possibility of changing jobs. My new employer was excited for me to join them and this made it difficult for me to discuss my concerns with them.  This was especially hard given that my new partners were my most trusted mentors. I did have a few friends I trusted to talk with, but I am sure they were sick of listening to me by the end of the process.

I have been at my new job now for almost a year and a half, and I can tell you that it has been a wonderful move for me. My research is now progressing again and I have a lot more support for the studies I am conducting.  Clinically, I am more fulfilled than before and I feel like I am where I was meant to be. That is not to say that there are not any issues. I am sure that I did lose at least a year of time progressing my career. Personally, the move has been harder on my family than I realized it would be and only now are they starting to regain the happiness they had prior to the move.

So, my advice is don’t be afraid of becoming a statistic, it might be just the move that you need.  It will be exciting, it will be sad, you will wonder if you are making a terrible mistake. Additionally, know that you are not alone, many of us have been through this before and can help you talk through the issues.

Kathleen Romanowski, MD, FACS is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of California, Davis and Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California in the Division of Burn Surgery. She attended the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and completed her general surgery residency at University of Chicago Medical Center. She did fellowships in Burn Surgery and Surgical Critical Care at University of California, Davis and Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California. Kathleen is devoted to the care of the burn injured patient and studies disparities in care and predictors of outcomes in elderly burn patients.  She is an active member of AWS and is a member of the AWS Communications Committee. You can find her on twitter at @KSRomanowski.


Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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