I’ve tried to leave medicine at least a dozen times. Medicine and I are like that couple that keeps breaking up and getting back together again, the ones you’re sure are done this time, only they kiss and make up and ultimately wind up engaged, leaving you partly baffled and partly affirmed, since you always suspected they were perfect for each other.
I dropped out of the pre-med program back in college. I was going to be a writer instead and take a job in publishing. But then medicine whispered sweet nothings in my ear and seduced me back.
In medical school, I nearly quit within the first three months because I am SO not a science nerd and 24/7 science was about to kill me until I signed up for night classes at the art school.
My third year of residency, I was so close to quitting that I could taste the freedom. I would fantasize about leaving medicine behind and finally having a life outside the four walls of a hospital. But right before I submitted my resignation, I heard the call once more, the call that first came when I was seven years old and knew I was meant to be a healer.
A decade passed, and I was Medicine’s reluctant bride until the health care system nearly broke me, and I had to call it quits - I thought for good. Medicine had become that dysfunctional codependent couple - I let Medicine abuse the hell out of me, and in return, medicine gave me a sense of purpose, financial security, and status, but it didn’t fill my heart.
When I left my OB/GYN practice after my Perfect Storm to move to the country and be an artist/writer, I thought we were finished. For real. Like no going back this time. Medicine and I were kaput.
But nine months later (nine months!), I heard the call once more, the call to serve, the call to help people heal, the call I first heard back when I was seven.
So I interpreted that call as a message that I was supposed to go back to a clinical practice, seeing patients in an office (‘cause that’s what doctors do, right?) So I joined an integrative medicine practice in the Bay area, before launching out on my own and opening the Owning Pink Center, my own integrative medicine practice.
But that wound up making no sense. I was globe-trotting all over the country on a book tour, paying overhead for a space that cost a fortune, trying to balance the details of running a practice with those of running Owning Pink, and feeling guilty about abandoning my patients when they needed me. Then my office manager quit, so I took it as a sign that I was supposed to leave medicine, once and for all. Divorce papers please!
Overwhelmed by the details of the practice, fed up with the hassles of our broken health care system, inspired by the idea that I could still serve and help people heal as a life coach, and longing for freedom from the indentured servitude of my profession, I closed my practice after all Signs from the Universe told me to do so.
This time I was REALLY done. I mean like I was ready to not even renew my medical license done. I was so done that I cringed when anyone called me Dr. Rankin and I had a hissy fit one day when Glamour magazine, Huffington Post, and Good Morning America all honored me because of my white coat.
I think the Universe was right in guiding me to close my medical practice. But I think I misinterpreted the signs to mean that I was supposed to leave Medicine altogether. Looking back, I now think I had to take a break in order to get clear on what I’m here on this earth to do, what mission I’m meant to serve, and how I’m supposed to integrate all of my gifts in service to those in need of healing.
But how? What would that look like? I had no idea at the time, and I felt terribly confused as I navigated the narrow place of the birth canal of my own life. After many dark nights of the soul, something finally started to shift as I was planning the workshop I’m leading at Kripalu and writing my next book, which are both all about self-healing from illness, trauma, and loss. I realized that the reason Medicine made me feel smothered, like I was trapped in a Doctor Box and couldn’t get out, like I had discovered how to fly and kept getting my wings clipped, was because I was allowing the stagnant, constrictive patriarchal model of medicine to limit how I define Medicine.
The truth is that my calling to serve and help people heal has never gone away. I just expanded beyond the confines of that patriarchal system, and because that system seems so entrenched, I equated Medicine with the system. Medicine has been calling me my whole life and yet, I’ve been angry at Medicine, wounded by Medicine, wildly disappointed in Medicine. Medicine betrayed me like the lying bastard who runs off with his secretary. Medicine broke my idealistic little 7-year old healer heart.
But there’s the rub. This is what I’ve discovered while traveling through the narrow place and battling my dark nights of the soul. I was getting it all wrong. Medicine is not the problem. Medicine is a divine and noble act of service, a spiritual practice that allows doctors and other practitioners the privilege of being present for those in need of healing. Medicine is an opportunity to meet someone at their most vulnerable, to provide a safe, sacred, nurturing, loving space that activates their innate self-healing mechanisms. Medicine is all about love, and while science may cure, only love heals. When you combine healing and curing, magic happens.
Realizing this is blowing my mind. Medicine is definitely not the problem (sorry, my love, for bad-mouthing you to the world the way I have). Here I’ve been dissing my life-long lover, and it’s not medicine’s fault. The outdated patriarchal model is at fault because they’ve lost the essence of what Medicine has always been about. It’s time for Medicine to reclaim its place in our world and kick the outdated model to the curb.
LIGHTBULB! Aha! What if, instead of ditching medicine altogether like an ex-husband I need a restraining order against, I can leverage my gifts, experience, and influence to somehow expand the system so my white coat fits me like a soft, pink, cashmere glove? That’s the question I was asking myself when my friend Regena Thomashauer (aka Mama Gena was kicking my ass and saying, “Lissa, you’re a freakin’ doctor. OWN IT.”)
Within the past month, three friends who are my age have been diagnosed with late stage cancers and another one was diagnosed with BRCA, the breast cancer gene, which is why I wrote the post Damn You, Cancer. All month, I’ve been translating the details of their health crises, researching their cancers, getting on the phone with doctors and advocating on their behalf, coaching them through the process of activating their self-healing mechanisms, and helping them navigate a broken health care system while also making complex life-or-death medical decisions.
It’s made me realize that Regena is right, I’m a freakin’ doctor. I’m not just one of those life coaches you can swing your Fendi bag and hit on any street corner (no offense to you life coaches! I love you!) I went to school for twelve years and then spent a decade honing my skills, and I am f*cking awesome at it. I’m the kind of doctor everybody deserves. And I was ready to ditch it all.
I was all ready to up and move to Southern California, where I would live in the country, write, paint, and offer life coaching sessions via phone/Skype. But then the Signs from the Universe came so hard and fast they nearly knocked me over and left me sobbing in meditation for hours as I fell to my knees in surrender to the calling - the same siren song I’ve heard since I was a little girl of seven.
I’ll save the details of how the Universe screamed at me for another post, but suffice it to say that even my agnostic hubby was like, “Wow. Dude. I think you’re supposed to put your white coat back on.” (Okay, so he doesn’t really say “Dude.” That was my addition.)
I’ll announce soon exactly how I’m putting my white coat back on (actually, it’s going to be a pink, glittery coat this time around). But I can tell you this - it won’t look anything like what you expect a doctor might do. It will be 100% Lissa being unapologetically ME. But it will be the kind of service only a doctor can provide.
And my act of service might - just might - change the world (no biggie.)
So Medicine and I are renewing our vows. I just reread the Hippocratic Oath and realized that, rather than renew the oath I took upon graduating from medical school, I might need to write my own vows this time. So let me ponder them, and I’ll share them with you when I’ve written them.
I can tell you this. My wedding with Medicine will take place at a huge healing round table, where everyone is equal, no one stands on a pedestal, and patients take the seats of honor. I won’t be wearing white this time around - I’ll be the one decked out head to toe in PINK. And you’re invited, because you deserve to not only give but receive this kind of service in all aspects of your life.
So stay tuned for more details. I’ve almost gotten my heart wrapped around what I’m about to offer, so make sure you’re on my newsletter list so you can be the first to know.
Surrending to the Universe and saying “I Do” To Medicine,
Lissa Rankin, MD
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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