Every year, for the past five years, I have opened my annual letter from the American Board of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, reminding me that it’s time to recertify. In order to keep my board certification active, I have to pony up a boatload of money, read 100 journal articles, and take an all day open-book exam that proves that I’m up to date on all the important research of the year. Whenever this letter arrives, I invariably flash back to that fateful day in Dallas in 2001 when I, along with hundreds of other OB/GYNs from all over the country, submitted to being verbally grilled by grizzled senior physicians trying to make us all feel like idiots.
In order to qualify for this exam, I had to record all the details of every patient I saw in the hospital the prior year – every delivery, every surgery, every hospital admission – along with hundreds of patients I had seen in the office. During the oral exam, my examiners – there were three of them – could call upon me to spout off memorized blah blah about how you stage ovarian cancer or the mechanism of action of methotrexate or the chemical structure of any drug I had prescribed or the branches of any artery in the body. Half the questions they would ask would pertain to the hundreds-of-pages document I had compiled about all my patients. The other half could be made up sh*t about anything my examiners felt like asking me.
While staving off waves of nausea, I answered my questions. When the exam was completed, I promptly ran to the bathroom and vomited. When my husband asked me how I did, I burst into tears and told him I failed and would soon be applying for a job at Ann Taylor, a threat I had been making while I studied for my exam. He handed me a gift-wrapped box. It was a dress from Ann Taylor, with an application on top of it.
I cried some more.
It was the single most stressful event of my entire life, more so than losing my father, more so than giving birth by C-section, more so than getting divorced, more so than losing my dog. When the letter arrived announcing that I had actually passed my oral board, I puked again.
A Big Decision
But this year, when the letter arrived yesterday, I opened it, examined it, and realized I don’t want to keep my OB/GYN board certification anymore.
Just writing that makes my hands shake. The Gremlins in my head are going ballistic. But my Inner Pilot Light is speaking up this year. Here’s how the conversation is going.
The Gremlin: Of course you have to keep your OB/GYN board certification. What if your career as an author/speaker/blogger goes completely bust? This business is so fickle, everyone could turn on you, and then how would you pay the bills? That certification is a good back up plan. You should keep it.
Inner Pilot Light: But Lissa, you’re never going to do a Pap smear again, and you know it. You sold your speculums. You sold your autoclave. Your white coat is gathering dust in the closet. You’re on the right career path now, full steam ahead, skyrocketing to your dreams. Don’t look back, darling.
The Gremlin: You don’t know that. Anything could happen. Never say never. If you let your certification go and then you come on hard times and decide to practice medicine again, you’ll have to go back to Dallas and take your oral boards again. Don’t be a fool. Pay the money. Take the yearly test. Do it just in case…
Inner Pilot Light: Just in case of what, Gremlin? Don’t listen, Lissa. “Just in case” is simply the voice of fear masquerading as protection.
The Gremlin: But what will people think? It sounds so good to call yourself a “board-certified OB/GYN.” Don’t you want the status?
Inner Pilot Light: Now you’re just grasping, Gremlin. Lissa doesn’t need some status symbol to prove to herself that she’s valuable, right Lissa? She has me, and I tell her she’s valuable all the time…
The Gremlin: But you worked so hard for it! You paid so much money to earn it! You gave up fourteen years of your life to study for it! You sacrificed your marriages, your health, your sanity, and your LIFE to earn that piece of paper, goddammit! Keep the freakin’ board certification, Lissa. I beg of you! Do it in case Oprah calls. Do it so you can say “board-certified” on your book covers. Make up some reason if you want but, for the love of God, don’t let your board certification go!
Inner Pilot Light: Now settle down, Gremlin. Plug your ears, Lissa. The Gremlin is just scared. And I’m not. Go ahead and let it go, sweetheart. You’re safe. All is on track. You don’t need that piece of paper anymore. Thank it. It got you far. Honor it. You worked hard for it. Kiss it, for all the lessons it offered you. Now burn it. It’s time to let go and move on. Remember, the caterpillar dissolves completely before becoming a butterfly…It’s time to fly, darling. Let it go. To be what you must, you must give up what you are.
Nobody Was Neutral
When I announced on Facebook and Twitter that I was thinking of letting my board certification lapse, there was a mass outcry of polarizing opinions. Some, including many of my oldest friends, were fully in the “What the f*ck are you thinking?” camp. Many of those people watched me suffer so hard to earn that board certification. Others cheered me on for being willing to release what no longer serves me. What surprised me most was how passionately people felt about this. I got emails from people begging me to go back to clinical practice. I got other emails telling me I was such an inspiration and they were finally going to let their [bar membership/ board certification/ licensure/ teaching certificate/ insert whatever you’re keeping up “just in case”] expire. Nobody seemed neutral, which was interesting to notice.
I’m Letting It Go
I’ve decided to listen to my Inner Pilot Light on this one. I know that if I let it go, I will never go back to practicing as an OB/GYN, because I will never again submit to collecting a year’s worth of cases and getting grilled by three examiners in Dallas again. But I am not willing to let my fear make my decisions anymore.
Gremlin, I hear you. I really do. I know you think you’re protecting me, but I’m safe. The bills are getting paid. I don’t want to practice medicine anymore. I love my career and have faith that I’m on the right path and my Inner Pilot Light won’t steer me wrong. I have faith that the Uni-verse has a plan for me and it’s all being revealed in Divine timing. I have faith that I won’t ever have to go back to a job that sucked the life out of me just in order to put food on the table. I have faith…
What About You?
Are you clinging to something that no longer serves you because you’re afraid to let it go? Or are you brave enough to release it when it’s time to move on? Tell us what you think.
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.