I have learned many lessons during my four decades as an independent pediatrician. It has not always been easy, and I hope these tips and my personal story will help you.
Becoming a doctor and staying the course takes a special person with a calling. My inspiration came as a young girl in the 1960s after reading the biography of the first woman doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. There were so many times when I wanted to give up, but with encouragement from my father, along with a few mentors, I was able to stay the course.
I will never forget the words of advice given to us by our medical school dean on the first day of school, “Don’t forget to smell the flowers and look for happiness along your journey.” These words, although I did not fully understand them then, have stayed with me throughout my career.
During my fourth year of med school, my best friend through undergraduate and medical school turned to me one evening and said, “Let’s go for it.” I was confused at first, but quickly realized this was his marriage proposal to me. After pondering this for a few minutes, I said “Yes,” and we married immediately after graduation. Within a few weeks, we headed to Columbus, Ohio, for our respective residencies; he in internal medicine and I in pediatrics. In 1984, we returned to Hawaii to open up our combined private practices in a then-rural area, working six days a week, while raising our four children and becoming actively involved in our community.
I always felt that I could handle anything in life; however, at the age of 40 years, the stress and excessive workload began to take their toll. Over the course of a year, I became overwhelmed, lost my appetite, and could not sleep at night. Depression was not even on the radar but recognizing my symptoms from a journal article, I realized I was depressed and immediately sought help. I was soon back to my normal self but this painful experience taught me so much about the importance of good mental well-being.
Once I was back on track, life continued as planned. In 2010, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. We had so much to be grateful for and we even started planning for the next 30 years. However, this was not to be…
June 11, 2010, started out like any other ordinary day. At noon, my husband turned to me and said he did not feel well. I went to heat up our lunch and when I returned, he was unconscious. My husband was pronounced dead within the hour. He was only 55 years of age but autopsy results later revealed that he died of an aortic aneurysm.
I was blindsided by my husband’s untimely death. I soon experienced my second bout of depression and the advice from nearly everyone was to quit medicine. A quiet voice inside of me, however, kept telling me that I still had much more to give. Soon, a series of synchronistic blessings eventually resulted in me buying, designing, and building an entirely new office and starting my new business, Wee Pediatrics, Inc.
Now, nearly fifteen years later, I own and run a practice that contributes to my community and provides me purpose. I’ve learned three lessons during the journey it took me to get here:
Lesson #1: No matter how hopeless any situation appears, anything is possible. I found that when you reflect daily on your hopes and dreams, many connections and signs begin to appear but you must be aware of these things to confirm you’re on the right path.
Lesson #2: Value the importance of self-care and being kind to yourself. Taking time to recharge has become a top priority and I now make the time to do this daily.
Lesson #3: Finally, I try my best to focus my attention on today. Choosing to take it one day at a time helps me slow down a little, take control of my day, and move one step closer to my goals.
So, to you, my fellow physicians, congratulations on coming this far in your journey. Each one of you has special talents and skills to share with the world to make it a better place. Take care of yourself and have the courage and willingness to be open to change. Never stop learning and remember that happiness is not your destination, but rather the entire journey on which we’re all traveling together. There is an expression from Virgil’s Aeneid, “We gather strength as we go (Vires acquirit eundo),” so know that you are not alone and reach out for help if you need it. Fostering your connections with loved ones, friends, and peers is the most important factor to keep us living a life of passion and adventure.
As I prepare to pass the torch to you soon, know that we, your fellow physicians, are cheering for you and reminding you to smell the flowers along your life journey.
Written by Theresa Y. Wee, M.D.