Looking for some help on a tough decision. I am questioning whether I should switch careers. I have been a doctor for about 10 years now (post-residency) and have always enjoyed the medicine and teaching aspects of it. I love continuing to learn and enjoy working one on one with patients. But really for the entirety of my residency and 10 years beyond, I’ve often found myself worrying about patients after work, ruminating, and generally unable to unwind.
My husband used to get annoyed at me because I would be so distracted for several hours after work that I wouldn’t hear anything he said. There was one-weekend trip we went on to a beautiful relaxing place, and I just remember thinking that I wish I could enjoy it instead of worrying and thinking about work so much.
But I’ve kept going over the years, and made it through the first wave of covid. But now seeing covid cases rising and hospitals filling, I worry our hospital will be overwhelmed and not have enough staff to safely treat all the patients and it will essentially be like working in a war zone.
One night I was working, we got transfers from 5 different states because their beds were all full. I didn’t sleep for 96 hours during my last stretch of shifts and had a panic attack while there and finally had to call out for a mental health day (which is something that I’ve never had to do ever before and I think in general there may be stigma toward doing that), but I just felt like I had reached a breaking point and my mind was in chaos. I’ve been off work for several days now, but have some shifts coming up next week. The covid cases keep rising in our area, and I get anticipatory anxiety ever time I have to go into a shift, not knowing how many patients I’ll be called to admit, and whether or not I can safely take care of them all (I’m the only one on at night with no backup).
I worry about something important getting dropped and having to rush through things to see everyone, not being able to provide the quality of care that I’m used to providing due to the surge. I’ve been feeling like quitting medicine altogether since it seems I’ve never been able to find peace there, and it’s now much worse with covid. But I do love medicine and if I could make it out the other side of the surge, I think I would like to continue and just try to learn how to manage my anxiety better for the future. I’m just not sure I can make it through the surge – the night before I have to go into a shift, I can’t sleep thinking about how horrible it might be and how it might get unsafe. And doing that day after day is draining and I feel like the chronic stress of doing this for the last 9 months of the pandemic is causing both my mental and physical health to deteriorate. I don’t know if I can do another string of night shifts again like this, or if I would be unable to sleep between them and have a panic attack again while at work.
But I also feel like I can’t quit because I like the company and want to stay with them post-covid, and I’m also in a contract where I have to give them 3 months notice or else it will burn a bridge, which I don’t want to do. Also, I don’t want to abandon my coworkers and patients during this time when we need all hands on deck. But I feel so exhausted and chronically stressed/burned out that I’m not sure I can keep going without something worse happening (car accident due to insomnia between shifts, another panic attack, other health problem, etc) and feel like maybe I should put my health first?