Why I left private practice for the public sector

Some of the greatest psychological stressors are said to include breakups, death, moving house, and starting a new job. Sometimes we choose one or more of these willingly, and hope to hell that the payoff will be worth it.

For two years, I worked in private general practice in Cape Town. The benefits of this kind of employment were sizeable – I made a living on relatively few hours, and had no overnight calls. I got to sleep like a normal person! I had a flexible schedule, and could always increase or decrease my hours as necessitated by my needs.

67f7caa11c6a92df0d63d283d90ddcd7The cons, however, were not insignificant. Any leave I took – sick leave, vacation, or for a course/conference – was unpaid. I was paid by the hour (and that has affected my taxes, too). I was often the only doctor at a practice, sometimes one of two. The patient-pressure was immense – I never managed to get a grip on seeing 4-6 patients in an hour. I simply was neither able nor willing to compromise patient care, nor my medico-legal accountability.

On the other hand, I did get to live in Cape Town. Cape Town! Although the city can be scary and inhospitable to newcomers, there is so much to do. I could never tire of it. As Murphy would have it, I made a lot of friends and found communities to slot into during the final few months.

But why did I ultimately decide to pack it all up, and move AGAIN?

Because I was miserable.

I am not going to unpack that misery now (maybe another day), but I soon found myself completely out of love with my work. I missed the sense of a team. I missed being able to discuss cases with colleagues, and having someone with whom to commiserate. I missed the somewhat academic environment of public hospitals. I care a great deal about primary healthcare and public health, but I found that I was swimming against whitewater rapids, and treading water was becoming more difficult by the day. Although I wasn’t working very many hours, I found myself constantly low and tired. Often, I would delay leaving for work until the very last minute, and then arrive late. My career seemed hopeless; I felt heavy and inert. 

In short: I hated my job.

I do not use that term lightly. In previous jobs, I had certainly had days when I hadn’t particularly enjoyed working. This was not that. Hating my job is probably one of the worst things that has ever happened to me, and unless you have experienced it, you cannot begin to imagine it (I certainly could not). I have very clear memories of LOVING being a doctor before, so I know that this had little to do with my profession, and more with the direction I was taking and the environment I was in.

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And now I get to work scrubs to work every day!

So when the call came to offer me a job in anaesthesia, the scales weighed heavily in favour of the new job. There was the matter of the city and the people I would be leaving behind – and I did not make that decision lightly. Ultimately, being unhappy at work was negatively impacting on all spheres of my life. I had to get out, or it would kill me.

And so, I said yes. I packed all my belongings for the fourth time in three years, to move to a small city with significantly fewer resources.

But I think I am happy here. I have completed two months of supervised work, and I am starting to have my own independent theatre slates. It has been extremely high-stress, and my confidence has on numerous occasions hit the very bottom of rock bottom. I often fall asleep on my couch in the early evenings, because my brain feels so fried from all the mental exertion.

But I love my job again.

And I cannot begin to explain what a game-changer that is.

3 thoughts on “Why I left private practice for the public sector

  1. I share your sentiments on private practice. For me, the time constraints were frustrating. And I wasn’t a fan of denying services when patients couldn’t pay. Ultimately public practice makes me feel more fulfilled. Glad you’re loving your job again!

  2. Donning our own O2 mask first is essential. Still learning how here. Thank you for serving the people who need you. Some of my most vulnerable moments have been shared with anesthesiologists. Enjoy your journey!

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