The night our PBS Story aired, I wept as I reflected on my journey in bringing Birchwood Family Medicine to life. Forever suffering from Imposter Syndrome, I wouldn’t say I’m someone who feels proud very often. But that night, I was proud.
I had always dreamed of having my own practice, but $160K in student loan debt and two children under 2 required that I go mainstream when I finished training at age 28. Or so I was taught to believe. Medical training & mainstream healthcare incentivizes and awards workaholism, while maintaining that nothing is ever good enough, and that we always must perform better. I didn’t recognize my own worth at the time, and so I bought right in. For eight years, I killed it – I was high performing & well paid.
By 2015, I had worked myself into the ground & nearly the grave with what would later be diagnosed as advanced sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune illness. My Dad died suddenly in 2016 and over the next few years, my worsening illness was increasingly seen as a personal weakness by the industry I had dedicated my life to. I moved my family 150 miles from home to take a job advertised to be less demanding in 2018, only to get categorized as “terminal” and become permanently disabled in 2019. I stopped practicing in March 2019 and after 3 years of prednisone, I had gained > 100#. This was my rock bottom; I felt suicidal at times.
Thankfully, by age 40, I knew my worth. I knew I was loved and I have known for decades why I am on this Earth. Even though the darkness was clouding the how, it was my job to figure it out, with His help. I began to realize that my illness was not a weakness. In fact, just like other hardships I’d faced, this patient experience made me a better doctor. It had informed my research on shared decision-making and minimally-disruptive medicine while employed, and at this crossroads, it would most certainly influence my next steps. I started working telemedicine full-time that July, and slowly began to realize something that had been hidden from me for 23 years. Industrial healthcare & insurance is not the only way to practice medicine – or receive healthcare – in the United States. As I practiced outside of mainstream healthcare, a better work-life balance helped drive the sarcoidosis into remission and I began to get better. Throughout the pandemic, I studied the work of private physicians, direct primary care & The Patient Revolution and I began to dream. The how was Birchwood Family Medicine, opened as a labor of love with the support of my selfless family, in 2021.
The irony is that part of what makes me a good Doctor is the keen awareness that I am a flawed human; we all are. Big Medicine looked at those flaws and told me I wasn’t enough. Yet two years in, my practice was featured on PBS as a potential solution for America’s Healthcare Crisis. The critics were wrong. I was able to find a way to be myself, support my family, live my truth & practice medicine in the way it was meant to be practiced. My health continues to improve and I’ve intentionally lost 85 pounds (35 since filming!) since Birchwood Family Medicine opened. So yes, when I watched our members speak on PBS Newshour about how Birchwood Family Medicine impacts their lives, I wept as I realized that I’ve actually done what I set out to do. I’m living my purpose and I know that I am enough. For that, I will always be grateful. If you’re reading this from the arena yourself, remember:
1) Never, Never, Never Give Up (Churchill)
2) Trust your gut
#dreamscometrue #youcangetbetter #healmoralinjury