It was almost 6 in the morning and I had barely gotten any sleep in two days. After seeing one of the most complicated cases I had ever handled, I went straight to the duty doctor’s room and broke down, my heart breaking for the umpteenth time.
Working again in the hospital reminded me why I got out. I was anxious, stressed, and incredibly overwhelmed by emotions. Add to it, I had no idea how I’d get through a whole day of classes ahead of me.
It was a particularly rough day. The man was brought in a barely arousable state, the rest of his history was there somewhere in the back of my mind, but all I could think about was his wife. She was wearing a faded grey and red sari, her hair in a messy braid, tears flowing down her cheeks as she repeatedly asked, “He was fine when he went to sleep, why does he need this sudden surgery?”
I willed myself to let go of the turmoil in my head – a surge of emotions rushed through me as the ER physician informed her that there was only a 50% chance of him returning to his previous state, throwing her into a fit of shock and anger, disbelief too perhaps. (For a second, I was worried that standing as close as I was to her in that moment that I’d be hit, not the first time that something like that would’ve happened to me). She didn’t hit me, what she did do was throw her red handbag against the ER wall as she began wailing, the kind of cry which ripped my insides out.
This is considered routine in the day-to-day life of a doctor, I knew that, but somehow it was more difficult now. I had already decided to break away from the norm and was pursuing a journalism course while working part-time as a junior resident in the Department of Neurology (the reason for that is irrelevant). And, in the wee hours of dawn that day, I knew that I’d made the right choice for myself.
While there are several engineers who have chosen to pursue alternate career paths, doctors doing so is still met with some hesitancy.
Actor Sai Pallavi graduated medical school in 2017 and had already garnered critical and commercial acclaim for her role as Malar in the film Premam, which she had shot for during college holidays. She’s always maintained that the medical profession remains close to her heart even as she takes on more projects in the film industry.
Similarly, author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik also opted to pursue his passion for storytelling and mythology after having worked in healthcare for 15 years.
Dr Yogita Rana is an IAS officer from Hyderabad who opted to pursue civil service after graduating MBBS after realising that there were problems in the public healthcare infrastructure and sought to resolve those issues.
Atlanta-based Dr Monisha Vankina is a chef and food blogger who constantly whips up new recipes using principles of clean and healthy eating. “It wasn’t like this happened immediately and overnight,” she says, “I started pursuing a postgraduate course, I completed my first year and felt discontent. In the meantime, I got married and took time off from my course when I started experimenting with cooking and posting about healthy eating.”
Over time, what started as an experiment on the side became her full-time venture. “By then, I knew I didn’t want to continue my postgraduate course. I’d always been very interested in understanding clean eating and in finding easy ways to implement it into daily life. I started my Instagram page with the idea of showing people how easy it is to make clean eating a part of your life. These are recipes which I have tried and tested,” she adds.
“My family wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of me moving away from medicine, I think they even initially felt that this was just something I was doing for fun, but after a point they saw how serious I was. It took a lot of time for them to come around though,” says Monisha.
Unlike her, Hyderabad-based Dr Sneha Desu, Personal Trainer and Co-founder/Head Coach of Fitmom, knew from the beginning that she didn’t want to pursue medicine. “First of all, I never wanted to do medicine, I was quite vocal about it too,” she tells TNM. “At the end of the course, I’d done well and gotten good scores, but I felt stuck. I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to continue doing for the rest of my life.”
A trip to Australia inspired her to become more fit and to take up a more active lifestyle, which she began to do. “That trip made me realize how unfit I was and I was motivated to take up cross fit training. I was doing these things for myself when I heard about the Devil’s Circuit obstacle course and ended up winning the one held in Hyderabad,” she adds.
It was after seeing her performance in the obstacle course that she was approached by F45 Fitness Centre with a job offer.
“At that point, I didn’t have another plan in mind. I had begun to study for the Australian medical board exams, but I wasn’t too keen on pursuing a medical career and even failed the exams on purpose. I finally ended up applying to a Masters’ in Sports Nutrition, but took up the offer with F45 so didn’t pursue the programme at the time,” she says. Eventually, she did go on to specialize in sports nutrition as well as prenatal and postnatal exercise and core training.
“Before I started with F45, I was a bit apprehensive, I even told them, ‘I’m a doctor, I don’t know anything about fitness or training,’ but they felt that I had it in me and I took some time to become a certified fitness trainer and began working there,” Sneha tells TNM.
At F45, Sneha began making a name for herself and the work she was doing, establishing herself with clients who praised her. At the same time, she was simultaneously undertaking personal training on the side. “Eventually, KIMS Hospital in Hyderabad approached me and wanted me to launch a pre-postnatal fitness centre with them. This is how ‘Fitmom’ came to be,” she says of her current venture into the world of pre and postnatal exercises for new mothers.
“It is difficult for doctors to pursue non-medical options; I was too scared to jump into something for the longest time. With MBBS, you have a very clear and defined path set ahead of you, so it becomes difficult to break that norm,” said Sneha. “My parents eventually came on board once they saw how passionate I was, after winning the Devil's Circuit legends cup the next year."
Maybe it’s a millennial thing, maybe some of us are no longer satisfied with a job just to pay the bills, or maybe it's the mounting stress of the job. But whatever it is, it’s definitely more challenging for doctors to break the mould and pursue alternate careers. And when they do, it definitely paints a different picture.
Nimeshika is a doctor who is a journalist with TheNewsMinute.