Should I reverse life course after the election to "fight Trump"?
November 13, 2016 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm a physician who has been building a career in global health for the past few years. While still in the early stages, things have been going well and I may be getting offered a dream job soon. Over the last year, I have become more and more interested in US politics, and with the election results, I don't know if we can stay abroad much longer, but don't know what I'd do if I came back home.

I am currently working 50/50 between a US hospital and a respected NGO, and will likely be offered a full time job abroad with the NGO to start next year. A year ago, this would've been a dream job, but I have become increasingly interested in US politics/activism over the past 1-1.5 years. It's become the majority of what I read and think about...I would much rather read a public policy article than a medical journal. I have been telling myself that I would continue my global health career path, and with more life experience under my belt possibly reconsider entering the political/activist world 8-10 years down the road.

As w/ a large part of the country, the election turned everything upside down. I can't in my wildest dreams imagine being abroad for next four years, but it also seems naive to think that someone with no skills outside of the hospital could affect change. Uniquely, my job (an internal medicine hospitalist) is such that I do have a lot of free time outside of work (10-14 days a month) to devote to something else, I just don't know what that something might be.

Has anyone here made such a pivot? Regretted it? Never looked back? Anyone have any creative ideas?

I have worked extensively with the uninsured and homeless populations in residency, so that is one possible avenue. I've also looked at additional training (Masters of Public Policy), though I don't know of the immediate utility.
posted by sicem07 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing you can do is make a lot of money and donate as much of it as possible to people who have a chance of affecting real change-- which you seem to be admitting isn't you right now.
posted by paulcole at 8:27 PM on November 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

I work in tech and had a similar come to Jesus moment. I concluded, like paulcole, that it's likely it will get harder and harder to get by in coming years, and having cash to give to people who know how to use it (not to mention the people I personally know who are already suffering, and will continue to suffer) is probably better than me pretending I know how to fix a damn thing. I'll be following this thread too, though.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:34 PM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Right now, I too want to jump from what I am doing and apply myself to fighting the cancer that is Trump. But I think it's an extremely bad idea to make life-changing decisions right now. The emotional impact of what has happened makes it difficult to make rational choices.
posted by StrawberryPie at 9:04 PM on November 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

You might enjoy this book : The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World without Losing Your Way, by Hillary Rettig. She walks the talk, in that she donated one kidney to a stranger. Like other posters here, she also recommends pursuing a career that you are good at and then donating to causes you support.
posted by metaseeker at 9:05 PM on November 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

Be the best at what you are and then you can be more supportive of activism financially or personally. This will be and always has been a long haul project (unfortunately). Things are going nutso now. Nobody knows where things will stand in six months or a year. Do the dream job, but keep on reading those public policy articles. I'm giving my credit card a work out at Act Blue these days.
posted by Gotanda at 9:05 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're in a great position to make and donate lots of money as paulcole says. But also as a physician your skills will be hugely valuable. You can care for people who've lost their obamacare, you could volunteer for planned parenthood, you could learn to perform abortions. Don't make any rash decisions now - I'm just saying that doctoring may be a more valuable route for you to help than traditional activism given your qualifications.
posted by hazyjane at 9:10 PM on November 13, 2016 [15 favorites]

Staying in your field will also give you valuable expertise that you can use in talking about both health issues and international issues. You can use this expertise to talk to directly the public (e.g. weblogs and social media), inform the press (via letters to the editor, interviews, contacting reporters), and influence your elected officials (via letters, phone calls, etc.).
posted by mbrubeck at 9:15 PM on November 13, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm having similar thoughts about making radical life changes from one "helping" career to another. Here's what I've told myself: don't make any big decisions right now, while you're panicking and having ALL THE FEELINGS all at once. Just like after a major emotional trauma (death of a loved one, divorce, recovery from substance abuse, whatever) the experts tell you not to jump into any huge life decisions for a while, don't do anything now out of panic.

U.S. hospitals will always be here and will always need good doctors. Hospitals abroad will always need good doctors, especially doctors who are savvy about concerns outside of medicine, and even more especially if the U.S. government starts cutting foreign aid spending or deporting people or refusing even more refugees. You will be able to find a way to help people, and with careful thought and deliberation, you'll be able to find a way to do so that will also be personally satisfying.

But yeah, donate money. As much as you can afford. If you're anything like me, it'll make you feel better, almost irrespective of who you give it to, as long as it's a cause you think is righteous. Right now, I'm finding charitable donations to places like Give Directly and Donors Choose really emotionally helpful, because I feel like I'm really making a choice to help someone specific. Maybe that's not the best possible thing I could be doing with my money, but just looking through the requests and picking people to help and then helping them is taking the edge off. Try doing that. Pick projects close to your heart and fund them, as much as you can afford.

And then, when we're all feeling a little less immediately raw and fragile, we can start making longer-term plans, both for ourselves and for our society.
posted by decathecting at 9:19 PM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I was thinking along mbrubeck's lines but wanted to add that you can hook up with groups that work on issues you care about and offer to be an expert-on-call. Being able to send an MD to testify at a legislative hearing makes a difference.
posted by lakeroon at 9:24 PM on November 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

I went abroad after the 2000 election was stolen. I came home after 9/11. I served in local gov't and was an activist before I left, when I came back I did much the same.

I'm pretty sure things will go tits up soon enough and my comments will not really mean anything to you until after whatever bad things that can happen do happen. Still, I want you to understand that I really understand how you are feeling right now.

Do not come back right now. There's nothing you can do here. Stay safe, be an anchor outside this mess. The cabinet picks are very very scary and I don't think we'll be too deep into 2017 before you'll have a clearer picture and my advice makes sense.

Take that great job if it gets offered! I swear to you, there is nothing you can do here right now.

Please don't send money now to any org, either. Make a rainy day fund for helping down the road. We don't even know yet what will be urgent, although sending money to Planned Parenthood is always fine.

Wait and see. Hang tight, shelter in place.
posted by jbenben at 9:44 PM on November 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Many doctors I know are anti-ACA. We will need physicians who are willing to lend an experienced voice of support to provisions that will be contested. Trump has said that he plans to begin repeal efforts on Day 1 of being in office. Being a vocal, knowledgeable, and compassionate doctor on this issue will be a concrete way you can make a difference right away.
posted by naju at 11:32 PM on November 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

What we're seeing in the US is actually part of a world-wide problem. Racist/ethnocentric extremism is fuelling the rise of authoritarian regimes in dozens of countries. As a skilled medical practitioner who is also politically aware, what you do anywhere has impact everywhere. Take the dream job.
posted by Weftage at 5:45 AM on November 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

God no. Be a physician and actually help people in ways most people cannot.
posted by w0mbat at 11:08 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a nurse, but like you I work with homeless people. My program is based on Medicaid expansion and I think it's definitely possible my job will disappear in the next few years, and I am confident that my patients/clients will suffer exponentially more. Frankly, I really like your idea of fighting this here at home, but I can't picture how. I mean, it's been decades of underfunded safety net. Decades. We finally had a glimmer of improvement with the ACA and it will be gutted.

If you can think of a way to use your medical skills to fight the new regime, please share. I'll join you.
posted by latkes at 11:25 AM on November 14, 2016

I agree with people who are suggesting that you take time to feel your feels before you make any life-changing decision. A friend of mine was on her bike on Saturday when a driver opened his car door just as she was passing. Her injuries included a broken wrist and a triangle-shaped hole just below her lower lip where her body took much of the impact. No doc at the nonprofit Berkeley hospital where she was taken to the ER accepts Medi-Cal patients for surgery. She also needs dental treatment as a result of the accident and that means going to Highland dental clinic at about 5 AM in order to be seen sometime later that day.

Even with Medi-Cal, plenty of people are underserved. You can't go just to any pharmacy to get your prescriptions filled, for example. We were finally able to find a pharmacy open on a Sunday that did accept Medi-Cal but I was preparing to pay for the meds because my friend, who has a job, it is too poor to afford rent and has been couch surfing for three years.

That's not actually a plea for you to turn down your dream job. It's more like, how could you possibly have made my friend's situation better? Healthcare for poor people is a huge problem. I think if you were offered your dream job, you should take it. Because none of us will know exactly how things will play out--and you can always leave that job and come back to the US to devote yourself to more equitable healthcare or whatever you believe is the most important way for you to spend your time.

I have a friend who is a physician with an MBA and a specialty in pediatrics who knows something about combining medical care and do-gooding. Send me a message if you'd like his contact info. Asking him that question directly might be useful.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

With 10-14 hours a week, you can volunteer at one of the organizations you're interested in. After dipping your toe in the water, you'll have lots of information with which to do decide whether to commit more or not.

A data point: I thought I wanted to get into full-time politics, so I took a job doing software development to support political candidates. There were many things I didn't like about that job, but the main thing I took away from it was that it was structured such that it didn't really matter who did it — whether it was me, or a better programmer, or a worse programmer, results would be about the same. I wish I had done more on-the-ground homework before jumping in.

This is not at all to say that you'll end up in the same situation! Just that details matter a lot here re: effectiveness and your lifestyle. I am glad you are willing to get your hands dirty. Donating is better than not donating, but it's sometimes—but not always—also a convenient answer for people that do not want to make any actual changes in their lives. So down the road, always question yourself if you find yourself saying, well, I'll write a check and things'll be fine.
posted by ignignokt at 8:29 PM on November 14, 2016

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