Exhausted by the grind of my second year as a general surgery resident, I tried to energize myself by recalling my big dreams. I planned to enter a fellowship program to further specialize, become an academic surgeon with built-in research time, and take sabbaticals where I would work in impoverished regions in Africa while training other doctors.
In the present moment though I felt miserable. I thought the demands on my time would be short-lived but instead I realized my career path required more of my focus. I gave myself a pep talk- life will return to normalcy next year when I begin my first of the two research years involved in my academic track. I looked forward to a saner pace of life with no more 80+ hour work weeks.
Fast forward to my third year when I received a prestigious grant including the opportunity to work with two mentors, a stellar researcher and a pediatric surgeon. I reached the next step to realizing my dream, but why did I feel even more miserable? I lived under a cloud with my motivation at an all-time low. The need to perform and pretend I wanted this goal became harder. By the fall, I called a dear friend confessing suicidal thoughts and my need for her support to throw out the rest of the pills my dentist prescribed after surgery.
I found myself disillusioned and depressed. I didn’t know how to keep going. That’s where God met me. I couldn’t be picky about how I experienced Him—death and despair stood on one side and a cry for help on the other. I encountered the reality of His Presence in new ways. The first came when a group of friends prayed for me at the end of a conference. I sensed something changed but I couldn’t put my finger on what. The following week, I realized I no longer lived under a perpetual cloud. I still identified certain thoughts as stemming from fear, despair and shame, but my desire to die as the solution vanished.
As the oldest child in a culture which values achievement, telling my parents I no longer desired to be a surgeon proved to be the hardest thing. They threw me the equivalent of a wedding reception when I graduated from medical school, complete with formal invitations, cakes, custom dresses, an acapella choir and a DJ! As much as I enjoyed them being proud of my achievements they were not living my life. And I had to face reality: I didn’t like my current life or its prospects. One evening during the Christmas holidays, the words just came out: “I’m planning on leaving my residency.” My declaration hit my family like a torpedo and things remained uncomfortable for a very long time.
I returned to my research obligations after the holidays. I felt led to dial down socially as the Lord spoke to me through Song of Songs in the Old Testament, focusing my attention on the crux of everything. I couldn’t let go of surgery until I knew deep down God created me for love and defined me by love. By relying on my credentials for my worth, I often turned to my accomplishment as a surgeon to battle insecurities as a single woman and a woman of color. During this time God taught to me to rest as His beloved daughter, releasing the need to perform.
The next hurdle of telling my program director loomed before me. I wrestled with how to do so. A resident leaving a program normally could result in a logistical nightmare because of the rotations. But God went ahead of me and amazed me by the way He orchestrated things. It turned out that in order to balance the number of residents in the research and clinical programs, they needed one less resident.
The number problem provided the perfect opening for a conversation with my program director. He responded with such encouragement, even voicing questions about whether his current role suited him. Some people didn’t understand why I made the choice to leave, expressing their concerns. Somehow God gave me the strength to let go of the need to live for others’ expectations and move forward to discover where passion, joy and His purposes met.
I am learning to live from my heart, to trust my Heavenly Father in the way He designed me to live. I feel a new and growing freedom to explore with Him. I’ve been surprised by the things I love to do as a writer, makeup artist, and budding fashion designer – and all by His grace!
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