Walk Your Journey: A doctor mum’s story

After completing a two-year housemanship, I was at a crossroads being a doctor mum. My feelings were mixed and I felt torn. Even though the clinical experiences I had were useful in sharpening my skills and ‘toughening me up’ in many ways, I was, to put it bluntly – traumatized. Not only by the system and work culture, but also the fact that I had to leave my children for long hours, every day. The latter almost drove me into depression which I did not recognize earlier as I dismissed the symptoms as being ‘part and parcel’ of life. So I decided to take a step back, re-evaluate my priorities and most importantly, find a way to reconcile with myself.

New beginnings

My appeal to stay and work in Klang Valley – close to where my parents and siblings were – was rejected. I was instructed to relocate to a far-off state, Penang, where I would begin a new life as a medical officer. In February 2013, I took my two daughters – the younger one was 10 months at that time – to Nibong Tebal. My husband, Mahmud, had a job in Kuala Lumpur (KL) so he could not move with us. Luckily, I had an excellent domestic help who took care of my daughters while I was away at work. In Penang, I was stationed at a primary healthcare centre. As much as I missed the vibrant and colourful city life in KL, gradually I developed some affinity to rural life and appreciated its quietness and simplicity. 

The slow-paced life in Nibong Tebal had a number of advantages. It rewired my brain and enabled me to reframe my perspectives. Fewer distractions in the rural milieu gave me ample time to contemplate and explore my core values. I began to realize that even though I loved the idea of improving people’s health, the clinical setting did not bring out the best in me. Seeing one patient after another in the consultation room was a draining task, physically and emotionally. My idea of a job was the opposite; that it should constantly rejuvenate me and help me grow. That is not to say clinical work is less important. It simply means that my values did not match the nature of the job. I wanted something different. 

Rediscovering myself

Perhaps due to the quietness of rural life too, I was able to study myself and my children better. It was becoming clear that the kids badly needed me and as a mother, I am irreplaceable. At the same time, I needed a job that could fulfil two objectives: a) let me be a mother who is more physically and emotionally available to my children, and; b) maximize my skills and contribution to society. After a series of contemplation and discussions with people I trusted, I decided to take the plunge. By that time, I had learnt to appreciate my inclinations and tendencies, and strengths and weaknesses. Knowing myself gave me some confidence. It made me ‘in control’ of the direction I was heading. 

In September 2013, I submitted a resignation letter to the Ministry of Health and joined a university as a junior academic and researcher. That reunited our family in KL. A year later, I pursued a Master’s Degree in Public Health at another local university. The funny thing was, my intention of joining academia initially was to have a more balanced life. That was on top of my natural interest in public health subjects and more specifically, research. But as postgraduate studies began, I came to a realization that my life was just as busy, if not more. There were many sleepless nights, long days with endless classes and never-ending assignments and reports. A week prior to my MPH final exam, my domestic help – who had been a devoted worker – decided to leave Malaysia due to some family matters back home. We bid her a sad farewell.

Finding fulfillment

Thus, the struggle continued, this time with greater challenges. Every day was hectic as I always came home with tons of assignments and articles to read. But along the way, I eventually realized that I was not depressed or miserable. I was – rather surprisingly – happy! Happy with what I was doing, and content with the new work routine. It took a while before I then noticed that my daughters too, were growing well. Ever since I left my clinical job, they had become closer to me. We laughed more and fought more. The amount of time we spent together increased slightly compared to that of during my housemanship, but the difference was not huge as I spent many nights staying up to study and read, to complete my doctoral dissertation. So what made the difference?

The fact that I was happy. 

Reigniting passion

Taking a path that I genuinely longed for, and pursuing a field I was passionate about, had brought me back to life. Doing public health, I could stay up the whole night without becoming a zombie the next day. I was able to read hundreds of pages and craved for more. I could attend never-ending classes, and felt cognitively refreshed toward the end of the day. In other words, I was still the same tired and busy mommy. But I was a lot happier. The lesson was: I did not have to be a perfect mother, nor do I need to ‘always be there’ for my children. What I needed was to do something meaningful and in line with my values, because that gave me a sense of contentment that translates into a healthier relationship with my children.

Your own journey

For those who want to leave medicine or clinical jobs – or have done so – and fear what others might say, do not let criticisms hold you back. Studying medicine and NOT practicing as a clinician is NOT a waste. There is a whole, big world out there for you to explore. If you find a new interest, pursue it. Nowadays, knowledge is becoming highly inter-disciplinary and different fields are increasingly inter-connected. Whatever subject you study (other than medicine) or skills you gain (other than clinical), they are, and will be, helpful in one way or another.

The gist is, whatever you do, do it all out. Do with all your heart what gives you joy and meaning. Be it performing a job or raising a family. 

Most importantly, do not succumb to peer or societal pressure, or feel obliged to follow the crowd. Being a working mom is never easy, and it’s okay to falter. You are after all, a human. But remember this: you are not born to imitate others; you are born to walk your journey. 

To find out more about non-clinical jobs for doctors in Malaysia check out our job vacancy and find inspiration from medical doctors who’ve made a career change in our case studies. Check out Medic Footprints Malaysia , and follow our MF Malaysia Instagram and Facebook pages to stay updated on our events, webinars, job vacancies and more.

Check out other articles: