I was never one of those kids who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. I can’t really pinpoint any moment as a kid when I had any realistic inkling of the direction I wanted my future to go in. Certainly, I had strongly considered being catcher for the Chicago Cubs (speaking of which, I’ve been away from this space for awhile, so I need to link to a few related things here…) but deep down inside I knew that that was pretty much a pipe dream. I did like science and I liked being with people, so I had vaguely considered being a doctor. However I quickly dismissed it as I thought it was going to be too much schooling.
As a junior in high school, I fell in love with physics and decided I wanted to become a physicist. I wished I could be an astronaut, but with my poor vision I knew I would not be eligible for the astronaut program. (Of course, I later found out this was not true. That would only eliminate me from being a mission pilot. I would have still been able to be a mission specialist. Dang it… where’s my time machine….) But I would get a degree in physics and then go work for NASA in some other capacity. At the time, people told me that from what I would discuss about my love of physics, I didn’t actually want to be a physicist. I really sounded like an engineer. “Pshaw!”, I would say. I know myself. I am meant to be a physicist!
Of course when I got there, it turns out that all of those kind folks were correct. I was not meant to be a physicist. I was probably more suited to be an engineer. However, at the time I decided to leave physics, I had no real idea what engineers did (technically, I’m still not 100% clear on it) and I wanted to stay on track to finish my degree in four years. At that moment, I realized that while I had never really settled on being a doctor, being a doctor had always been floating around in the back of my mind. I had a year’s worth of biology credit, so I could change into that major, go to medical school and become a pediatrician. At the time, I did not really know any other options, so I assumed I would go off and be a pediatrician out in the community.
It wasn’t until I actually got into the world of medicine that I realized that there were a myriad of options for doctors besides working in a clinic. Subspecialties, work in the hospital, research, there were so many choices. At first I gravitated towards pediatric endocrinology, but early on in my residency, I found something even better. Medical education. It was perfect. The opportunity to tie together teaching, service, leadership and medicine? What could be better! And so I followed that path. As the end of residency neared and I was off to be part hospitalist, part educator and part clinic preceptor, there was a part of me that was sad to be leaving my own continuity clinic. I had forged real connections with some of the families there and I felt like I was really starting to come into my own after starting out thinking a life of well child checks and newborns and immunizations would be boring.
For many years now, I would tell anyone who would ask “When are you going to go out and get a real job?”, that education was my real job and that while no kid would ever say “Dr. McKenna was my doctor”, I would have a number of pediatricians say “Dr. McKenna taught me how to be a pediatrician”. And I would be more than happy with that.
However, in the past few months, I have been reconsidering my path. I spend too many nights sending emails at 1am, working on projects at 2am. My professional progress has stalled and my dreams still seem far out of reach. I constantly feel guilty about all of the efforts and missions at work that I have been ignoring because I just do not have enough time. I cannot remember the last time I read a book. I miss writing in this blog. Too often recently I have said to myself about something I want to do for me, “I’ll just get to that when I retire…”
And right about that time, came a unique opportunity. An opportunity to work with an amazing group of pediatricians that I have long admired with an office basically in my backyard. And I have decided to take it. I am leaving the academic center completely for a job out in the community.
In some ways it was an extremely tough decision. I have gained so much energy and knowledge and experience from working with a wealth of residents, students and faculty. I have built some useful programs and made enduring connections. I have gotten farther than I could have ever imagined. I would have to leave the only place I have known for the almost 18 years I have been in Indianapolis. From my Masters Degree to medical school to residency, 2 Chief Residencies (don’t ask…) and being a faculty member. The first day that I drive to work and it is not at the medical center is going to be quite jarring.
On the other hand, for the reasons I listed above, it was also an extremely easy decision. This is my one life and my kids are going to be this age for only so long. I want to go to eat lunch at school and go on field trips with them. I want to get back to writing in this space and expressing my creativity. I want to see what it is like to guide a young family through the joys and frustrations of being a parent. To see a child all the way through from infancy to heading off to college. I have never had to do medicine all on my own. By myself. No residents, no safety net. And there is a part of me that wants to see if I can actually do it.
It helps that I have an exceptional role model in this regard. My mom is an amazing mom and has formed me and guided me in so many ways. But I thought so much about my dad when I was thinking about this decision. My dad is a smart, hard-working accountant but he has also been the kind of guy who knows how to keep work at work and keep home at home. He was the kind of dad who would come up to me in high school and say “Mike, I’m really sorry that I can’t be at your baseball game tomorrow” even though it was in the northern suburbs of Chicago in the early afternoon on a Tuesday. A good hour away from his office in northwest Indiana. I had zero expectation that he would be there because it was so far away and during the work week. That is precisely the kind of person that I still aspire to be.
In the end, I have only 2 regrets with leaving now. First, I regret having never won the Morris Green Teaching Award. When I first heard of it as an intern, I immediately set it as a goal to earn it. Alas, it never worked out for me but I think I gave it my best shot. Second, I am going out having lost at Resident-Faculty Jeopardy two years in a row. For someone who loves trivia and competing, this is truly devastating. But I can at least rest well knowing that my legendary prowess in the category of “state nicknames” will be told for generations.
Back in high school, I had two running jokes with my best friend and his family down the street. When I would come over to their house, I would open the door, walk in and then knock. I was also terrible at saying good-bye. I would say good-bye and then stay for at least another hour, having said “good-bye” like 5 more times inbetween. I am still bad at good-byes, lingering on well past the 4th or 8th utterance.
Starting to say good-bye to people has been the hardest part of all of this. I wish I could have told all of you individually. To be able to tell each of you how important it is to me that you let me share a brief part of your journey. That I wish I could express to you how hard it is not to see your educational experience all the way to the end. To let you know that you made a difference in my life. That you were important to me.
So instead of just saying good-bye, I will use my go to crutch in times of need: music
This first song is the song that I used when I graduated residency as the soundtrack for our graduation video, celebrating our 3 years of residency and thanking our families. (Nelly Furtado needs to come back, BTW…)
Flames to dust, lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?
Currently, one of my favorite albums is this Carly Rae Jepsen album. It is a collection of “leftover” songs that didn’t make the cut of her critically acclaimed 2015 album (stop laughing… that is not a link to The Onion… this is fact) all of which elicit the funky synthesizers and feelings of the 80’s. And this song really sums up my feelings about and difficulties with saying good-bye.
I’m not that good at goodbyes, Sometimes it’s best to just fly
Ask where we’re going, Oh I… Can’t talk about it, can’t talk about it
Cause I’m just goin’ to the store, to the store, I’m just goin’ to the store
You might not see me anymore, anymore, I’m just going’ to the store
This is not good-bye. I’m just going to the store.