Friday, March 2, 2012

A Surprisingly Beneficial Uncertainty

     After almost a month of being unemployed, I have a job interview this afternoon. It's a GI center part-time anesthesia position, down in Conyers, which is about 20 miles southeast of our place in Atlanta. Although that may sound like an unacceptably long distance, it's a pretty normal commute for Atlantans. At the time of day I'd be traveling, traffic wouldn't be too much of an issue. Todd, a friend of mine from residency who is now a partner with the Northside Anesthesia group, suggested I contact this anesthesia staffing service a few weeks back, just to get on their list in case there was any available work. As soon as I contacted them, I learned of this part-time job opening. So, I am bolstering myself with coffee, and will plan to get a good workout in before my interview. Hopefully, it will all go well.
     The last job interview I had was about two years ago. I was still at Emory, but had become disenchanted with the politics there. It was time to move on. The thing I loved most about Emory was the opportunity to work with residents, and that was the hardest part about leaving. At the time, I'd been an Emory faculty member for about five years. In 2008, I briefly departed Emory to join an ill-fated private practice group, a one month experience from which I turned around, and came right back. When I returned to Emory, I negotiated a better salary and a call schedule that was perfect for me. I have always disliked the stress of operating room call, and was able to join the Acute Pain Service's call pool, which involved taking call from home, as well as daily rounds on our acute and chronic pain inpatients. During the week, I did a mixture of MD anesthesia and case supervision at Crawford Long Hospital, with Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays devoted to the Acute Pain Service (APS). The APS was staffed by a superb team of folks. Aside from the pain docs and residents, there were Pat, an anesthesia PA, and Mary, an RN, both of whom specialize in pain. Pat and Mary were wonderful assets and resources, especially for a non pain-trained doc like me. They were also a lot of fun to work with, and my days on the APS were the ones I looked forward to the most. I think I enjoyed that service because it got me out of the operating room, into the hospital environment where there was a sense of continuity of care, along with the often challenging tasks of formulating interventions and devising medication regimens to ameliorate our patients' pain. There was also quite a bit of psychology involved, which is a second love of mine. I learned so much about doctoring, working on that service. Not only did it solidify my anesthesia pain management knowledge, it was gratifying, and it helped shape me into a more competent, well-rounded physician.
     For quite a few years, the anesthesia job market in Atlanta has been saturated. When I decided to leave Emory in spring of 2010, there weren't too many jobs available in the metro area. I ended up accepting a private practice position in Rome, GA, the major downside of which was the 150+ mile round trip commute. I hated the idea of driving that far, but thought the job might be worth a try. The anesthesia group's contract had recently been sold out to a nationwide physician-staffing practice by the hospital's administration and the chief of surgical services, who strangely enough, was a non-practicing anesthesiologist herself. Things were still sort of unsettled there, and knowing this, I ignored some important red flags. For starters, in this particular hospital, anesthesia did not run the operating room schedule, like they do in every other institution where I've worked, and the anesthesia service as a whole was treated by the administration, and some of the surgeons, with what could only be termed contemptuous disrespect. Despite this, I felt like I fit right in with the other anesthesiologists and anesthetists, all of whom I found warm and welcoming. I thought that maybe things would change for the better.
    For eight months, I made that long commute, awakening at 4:10 a.m. every morning to arrive at work by 6:20, sometimes not getting home at night until after 8 p.m. Our call lasted 24 hours, which was sort of like being a resident again. Larger anesthesia practices generally employ call shifts of anywhere from 8-16 hours, but in order for that to work in a small group like ours, we'd have to take call every other day. The worst part of weekend call was the Friday-Sunday combo, from which it took several days to recover. At times, we'd also have to work post-call, which depending on whether or not you'd gotten any sleep the night before, could be quite brutal. The post-call drive back to Atlanta was scary because, more often than not, I'd had no sleep the night before, and it was very hard to stay awake. The camaraderie I felt with my colleagues compensated for the horrors of call. Once I'd determined that this job was a good fit for me, Brad and I decided to move to Rome, meaning I would no longer have to commute. I thought that eliminating the commute would improve my chronic state of call-related stress. Because Brad had lost his job with IHG right before Christmas that year, but had quickly snagged a home-based IT job, he was now portable. The worst part of moving was leaving Nick and Rory. Even though they were 20 years old, and had their own lives, I felt like I was somehow abandoning them.
     We moved to Rome in April of 2011, rented a loft, and got ourselves settled. Nick, Rory, and their friends came to visit us several times, as did my mom and my niece, Jerney. We figured on being in Rome for a good long while, but it just wasn't in the cards. For a variety of reasons, my job turned out not to be such a good fit, and in October, just six months after having moved, I resigned. I worked my 90 days' notice, during which I was relieved of call duties. Not taking call was a real eye-opener for both me and Brad because, once that stressor was removed, the quality of both our lives improved dramatically. It was the first time I'd felt "normal" in years. I got to eat dinner at home and sleep in my own bed every night, no more cell phone ringing at all hours, no more "emergencies of convenience", no more interrupted sleep. I realized that although I could physically perform the work involved in taking call, the stress I experienced during those 24 hours was mentally and spiritually devastating, made even worse by the lack of support for our anesthesia service, sort of  a "can't win for losing" scenario.
     My last day of work in Rome was January 27th, a little over a month ago. In December, Brad accepted a senior level IT networking job in Atlanta, so for the last two months, he's been making the against-traffic commute to Atlanta. Although I didn't have a job lined up, we decided to move back to Atlanta, since there were absolutely no opportunities for me in the Rome area. About three weeks ago, I was TMing with Todd, and he put me in touch with the anesthesia staffing group I'm interviewing with today. This position would be ideal: part-time, no call, no weekends, and a lot less stress. My intention is to work enough to pay the bills, and devote the rest of my time to writing my book. Since I started Channeling Hippocrates back in November, I've amassed quite a bit of material, a book's worth of stories and observations unto itself!
     The uncertainty I've experienced since resigning has been surprisingly beneficial. I've had to let go of the idea of being in control, allowing my life to progress along its natural course. In doing so, I've discovered that the future has, and always will be, uncertain, and I'm OK with that. Why try to fight it? In anesthesia, there are no guarantees, and the same holds true in life. Things have always managed to work themselves out in the past, otherwise, I wouldn't be where I am right now. The insightful relief I've gained by letting go is exhilarating. I don't get as worked up about things as I used to because I don't feel the need to worry and fret about what's going to happen ten minutes or ten years from now. I feel whole because I am honoring my inner voice, letting it guide me, instead of doing battle with it. Life is what's happening at this very moment. It's here for us all to enjoy right now, and it doesn't cost a cent. It may sound contradictory, but the unhappiest I've ever been in life correlates with the times I've made the most money. In my case, money doesn't equate with happiness. I don't want to end up one of those bitter people who spends a lifetime working toward retirement, pinching every penny, and missing out on all the good stuff in between. I also don't want to define myself in terms of my profession. There is still so much I want to see and experience outside of medicine, and I can't help but think that indulging in life's rich array of pleasures, being Kris first, and Dr. Landt somewhere down the line, amidst mother-daughter-sister-wife-friend-artist, will only make me a more versatile, compassionate physician. With that in mind, I'll step onto the treadmill. Then, I'll take Simon and Lilly out to play for a little while, after which, I'll clean myself up, don my interview suit and shoes, and head up to Alpharetta for my interview. Wish me luck!


  1. Best of Luck Kris!! You will blow them over! I'll be thinking of you today. Deb Dunn

  2. Kris, I hope everything went swimmingly in your job interview! You are the queen of resilience, bar none.

  3. Kris, Let me know how the interview went. I've been thinking alot about you lately. Have your ears been burning? I'm just home recovering from surgery. I miss you. We never made lunch before you left here. Still love reading your CH stories. Love, Judy

    1. judy, the interview went expecting to hear something back from the group i interviewed with sometime this week. i miss you, too...we can still get together for lunch anytime...maybe meet halfway somewhere? XOXO, kris