Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting to know you

Learning how to function effectively in a system vastly different than the one I left has quickly proven to be a challenge.  This office is still on paper until next summer, and handling a bulky paper chart feels awkward and slow to me after years with an electronic system.  I need help completing my billing, getting patients to consultants, even finding a drinking fountain.  If I'm honest with myself, though, none of those details are the hardest part about working in a new office.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I really miss being surrounded by people who know me well and respect me.  They're going to need some time here to make up their minds about me, and rightfully so.  But I didn't realize until now, until I left where I had been for so long, just how much that liking meant to me.  It made me feel safe to be myself, that it was okay if I wasn't perfect.

Now, I feel like I'm one mistake away from being perceived as incompetent, or one clipped response away from being thought of as unkind.  Of course, the other side of the equation is my job.  To get to know my new teammates.  To understand their joys and their motivations.  I guess we just have a lot to learn about each other.

So, I'll go first.  I've been married for about a year-and-a-half, and, no, we don't have any kids (though my husband did inherit two aging, yet still delightfully mischievous, step-cats).  My mom's father was a Lutheran minister and my mom is an organist.  Dad is a mathematician; his father was a pharmacist and owned a drug store in Grand Rapids.

Yes, at 5'11" you may describe me as "tall" which, to me, equals "hard to find clothes that fit."  I was a field hockey goalie in high school, and I was in the Women's Glee Club at college.  It can take me a while to feel comfortable around new people, but I can also be a bit of a ham once I do.  I'm an efficient worker who likes to find reasons to laugh in the free spaces of the day.

I will pour my heart and soul into caring for your patients.  You've known them a lot longer than me, so I'll need your help to understand them.  I will respect the talents and experience that you bring.  I will also work tirelessly to help grow your residents into self-sufficient family practitioners who are unafraid to care deeply for their patients while remaining lifelong learners.  But enough about me.

How about you?

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Mrs. Dr." part 2

In my last post, I shared the story of how I settled on keeping my maiden name after getting married.

By no means, though, have I always been satisfied with that decision.

Firstly, I don't like imagining a future child having to explain about Mom and Dad's different last names.  Will school officials look at that child's information form and assume that we're divorced?

I also get fatigued of correcting the people I can (new acquaintances) and mutely accepting the people I can't (mostly older family).  Certainly at work, I never have an issue.  And, let's face it, I spend more time at work than not.  Outside of work, though, it feels like I am constantly rubbing against the grain of social acceptability and convention.  As much as I hate to admit it, some secret part of me just doesn't like being "different."  The last name thing is certainly a marker for my non-traditional-self.*

More distressingly, my husband and I were touring a Revolutionary War graveyard in Philadelphia last year.  I looked at the gravestones of husbands and wives, solidly lying side-by-side, and realized the potential future implications of our decision.

"What if, after we both die, people don't realize we were married because our last names are different?"

My husband, in his usual implacable way, didn't seem too concerned, but I continued to silently wonder.  What if some descendant of ours gets confused while researching the family's genealogy?  I worry that we're one missing marriage license away from one of us being irrevocably obliterated from our families' historical records.

My husband's serenity, however, reminds me that our marriage isn't about some future record.  It's not about appeasing social convention or living up to other people's expectation of what we "should" be.  Our marriage is ultimately only about us, as we are in the here and now.  About our decisions, our struggles, and our joys - about the day to day reality of juggling careers and the rest of life.  It's time for me to let tomorrow worry about itself.**

We've got today to live.

* see post dated 1-9-11 re: baby and bridal showers...
** Matthew 6:34

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Mrs. Dr." part 1

My husband was the first of us to get his driver's license in our new state.  He came home from the DMV with a sticky note that had a list on it.

"I told them that my wife still had to come in, so they wrote down everything you need to bring when you come.  I'm just not sure why they would want you to bring our marriage license, though."

I didn't have to look at the list to answer his question.  "It's because they assumed I changed my name when we got married."

A reasonable assumption to make.  A recent (admittedly non-scientific) survey showed that only 8% of American women choose to keep their maiden name after they get married; those who do tend to be older when they get married, highly educated, and "are more likely to work in medicine, the arts, or entertainment" (1).  Hmmm....check, check, and check.

Another 6% decide to hyphenate.  A second poll showed that 70% of women think women should have to change their last name when they marry.  (2)

I didn't expect to get married for most of my life.  Something about that overly ambitious yes-I-need-sleep-more-than-hanging-out-late-with-your-inane-friends-on-a-weeknight just didn't seem too appealing to potential dates and mates.  I was not willing to give up the profession I felt called to, so I just went ahead and told myself I would be happy as a single woman.*

Then I graduated from medical school, and then residency, and then started to make a name for myself in the family medicine academic community.  I told myself that, if I ever did get married, I'd want to keep my name if my husband would agree.  If a future husband were to feel strongly about me changing my name, however, I would be willing to change it; I freely acknowledge that my reasons (then and now) for keeping my name revolve mostly around convenience and professional identity.

Obviously, though, I did get married.  Not long after my husband proposed to me, I asked him if he wanted me to change my name.

It was a short conversation.  It made sense to him that I'd keep my name, seeing as how we're both physicians, and especially since we're in the same specialty.  Neither of us consider ourselves as being "less married" for having different last names.   Isn't marriage about more than names, anyway? (3)

In the medical world, our decision is pretty common.  My medical friends asked me the usual question that follows a female colleague's engagement announcement: "Are you changing your name?"  Some married female doctors use their maiden name professionally and their married name elsewhere.  I always knew, though, that I couldn't live under two identities.  So, "Jennifer Middleton" I remained.

I admit to getting a little frustrated when people assume that I changed my name.  Physician or not, 14% seems to be a large enough percentage to justify the courtesy of asking a married woman how she wishes to be addressed.  The other 86% probably won't mind.

I have had some second thoughts, though.  Stay tuned for part 2...

* Which, for the record, I firmly believe I would have been.  Marriage is full of many joyful things, but it is certainly no panacea of happiness, either.  I firmly reject the idea that it is impossible to live a fulfilled and happy life without being married.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's about the run

I remember well my final run at my favorite park in our old city just three weeks ago.  The air was warm and the trees were rustling in the breeze as I jogged my well-loved loop.  I didn't want to have to leave that park for the final time.  Would I find someplace to run in my new city that was as as zen-inducing as that leafy, peaceful park?

I knew that it was time to move on, but I didn't want to leave my familiar job either.  As much as I could intellectualize about the worthy reasons to go, some tenacious part of me balked at having to start over.  What kind of a doctor would I be in a new place?  Maybe I relied too much on the systems and people around me.  Maybe getting plopped into a new spot would reveal my inadequacies.  After all, I had spent the entire eight years of my post-medical school career in one place.

Leave we did, though, and here I am in my new job.  Everything is unfamiliar, and I am humbled by having to relearn workflows and cultures.  I still get lost in this office and our hospital across the street, though I certainly appreciate the gracious ways my new co-workers are assisting me.

My skills and experience are taking on new meaning here, and I'm coming to realize that my identity and purpose wasn't as tied to my former office and program as I had feared.  I brought my knowledge and personality with me, after all.

Last week, I pulled my running shoes out of a moving box and headed out into our new neighborhood for a jog.  The neat sidewalks and flat topography are definitely different from my old city's feel, but as I trundled down the streets my feet moved just as they always had.  The sky was wide and flat before me, clouds lazily ambling along.  Children were playing in driveways surrounded by trees bursting with a million different shades of oranges, reds, and yellows.  After the run, I experienced the same gentle burst of euphoria afterwards that I always had before.

I'm relieved to discover that I am more than the place that I left.  My skills belong to me, regardless of the context I'm in.  My enjoyment from running wasn't ultimately about the park, it was about the run itself.  My job satisfaction wasn't ultimately about the place, it was about the work I was doing.

No matter where I go, I'm still a family doc.