Limiting my medical practice has afforded me time to pursue other interests: graduate school in medical informatics, medical writing, the medical Internet, and an overlooked area of grief and loss. Since medical school I have been drawn to issues of death, dying, and hospice. I have also been interested in grief and loss issues and the significant impact these emotions have on the health and well-being of patients. Based on the remarkable response to our non-profit website, devoted to these areas, I believe this area will eventually become a recognized part of medicine. One very important lesson I have been taught in being involved in the loss and grief field is an understanding and appreciation for how quickly things can change, how precious the time we have is. I have observed so many times too many friends, colleagues, and patients who put their life on hold for “later.” Enough unexpected deaths occurred to make me realize life it too short to put your dreams on hold for a later time, because that later time may never come. Dr. Leo Buscaglia perhaps said it best:
Death teaches us–if we want to hear–that the time is now. The time is now to pick up a telephone and call the person that you love. Death teaches us the joy of the moment. It teaches us we don’t have forever. If teaches us that nothing is permanent, It teaches us to let go, there’s nothing you can hang on to. And it tells us to give up on expectations and let tomorrow tell its own story, because nobody knows if they’ll get home tonight. To me that’s a tremendous challenge. Death says, “Live now.” 
Working in the area of grief and loss has helped me to focus on life, living and the here and now. Thankfully I learned the important lesson in my late 30’s after the deaths of several friends, colleagues and patients. I learned how important is is to appreciate the joy of the moment, because you don’t know how long it will last.
I spent eight years in medical school and residency training in pursuit of a medical dream, putting my life on hold and not really living. I always felt that something was missing; that was my own family. I met my husband, an army officer turned journalist turned computer engineer, soon after I finished training, providing me a spouse with a diverse background and who, thankfully, was outside the medical profession. We have focused on enjoying life by simplify our lives minimizing stress and material possession and maximizing exercise, traveling, and healthy eating. Weekends are often spent hiking on the many Northern California trails. Work schedules are arranged around medical conferences with interesting scenic locales or hiking potentials.
After ten years of putting my life “on-hold” in pursuit of a medical career, to be significantly in debt and looking at several more years of practicing medicine with my hands tied, I felt it was time to reassess my profession. I realized that the profession that I had devoted so much time and energy to had let me down. I was obviously unfulfilled in my chosen career. I felt that something was still missing. That something made her appearance in March of last year—our daughter.
A year since her birth, I have had time to reflect on my roles—as physician and as mother and prefer this new role. Being on-call 24/7 as the primary care giver for an infant is challenging and stressful, but I find it is nothing compared to the stress of clinical practice, and infinitely more rewarding. After years of treating demanding, irritable patients, and dealing with pestering office managers and managed care time constraints, I would choose a sometimes cranky baby over cranky patients, any day of the week. At least my daughter smiles every so often and can’t sue me for at least a few years.
Each day with my daughter it is a marvel just to watch her grow and develop. Perhaps most important, this new role as mother has taught me something I had been looking for during my residency training, how to live and just be in the moment. I cherish the time I spend with her, enjoy the smiles and laughter, and realize that helping her develop into a person may ultimately serve a greater purpose than treating patients. I find myself reflecting on the touching words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and redefining my earlier idea of success, as being something much more than career:
” To laugh often and love much, to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children… to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child…or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—that is to have succeeded.” 
Even more so, I am grateful at this point in my life, that I had the opportunity to change my original decision to not pursue career and family and can travel the role of parenthood on “The Road Now Taken.” My choices will make all the difference.
1. Dyer KA. The Road not Taken. West J Med. 1996;164:369-70.
2. Buscaglia L. “Tomorrow’s Children” from Living, Loving and Learning. New York: Random House: 1982, p. 152-153.
3. Cook J (Ed.) The Book of Positive Quotations. Fairview Press: 1997. Quotation also available at: www.motivationalquotes.com
Click here for Part Two – The Road Lightly Traveled: Part-time Medicine