Devastated about being fired
April 4, 2019 12:02 AM   Subscribe

I’m a physician. I just found out that I’m being fired because I’m “not a good fit”, and I’m absolutely devastated.

I’m feeling really devastated. About three years ago we moved to a wonderful town - everything my family and I wanted in a home. I have been commuting for work, but about six months ago finally got a part time job at the local hospital. The atmosphere was a little bit hostile - lots of old while male docs, some small town culture type thing going on, but overall ok. It was just 10 minutes from home and I liked working there. I have really been trying hard - coming in early, staying late to help out, getting charts done on time, being friendly with all the nurses, etc. I thought that things were going well. Well, yesterday the director of my department called and told me that other docs in the group didn’t think that I was a good fit. I asked him why, asked about any specific cases, but he was very vague and didn’t really give specifics. I asked to at least have an opportunity to go over whatever issues people have with me, whatever problems there are with any of my cases, and he said that he would speak to the other partners in the group and get back to me.

I’m waiting, but in the meantime I just feel absolutely distraught. I don’t understand why I would be disliked, and I honestly can’t think of any cases that went wrong, or bad patient encounters, or anything like that. More than that, I now feel unwelcome in the community. It’s a small town, around 20K people, and knowing that I’m getting fired from this job, and have to see the docs and nurses around town... it’s humiliating. Anyway, I’m not really asking for advice, just looking to see if anyone has had a similar experience, and any advice as to how to approach this and deal with it all. Thanks for reading.
posted by nightdoctress to Human Relations (41 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This happened to me once and it feels terrible. Please do all the things to take care of yourself, including allowing yourself to grieve (regardless of outcome, you have lost a great deal of self-assurance by having this happen), calling on loved ones and friends for support, etc.

I went through a lengthy period of thinking of myself as a FAILURE, in all caps, which did not help matters one whit. If you have kept fan letters from patients or recommendations from former teachers or anything that helps remind you of your competence, by all means review them.

Keep in mind that while it is shocking to suddenly discover that one is not universally adored, that does not make you bad or unlovable or unprofessional. If you happen to be female, you may genuinely be a bad fit for a place if it happens to be run by old men. You will probably never know why you are being fired. The trick is to morn but not wallow; you will eventually find your way and, also, fuck those people.

While being fired feels humiliating, it is not clear that you have done anything wrong nor have anything to feel ashamed of. I am on my phone so I won’t look for it but you should find Eyebrows McGee’s account of losing an election and how she coped with that loss and being forced to appear in public shortly after. It is inspiring. Good luck, MF is rooting for you!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:36 AM on April 4 [40 favorites]

I’m guessing that you are not an old white male, and if so and there’s nothing you’re actually doing wrong, then it is perfectly possible that you are being discriminated against in a way that is immoral and potentially illegal.

Taking the question at face value though, not every job is a good fit. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean that you should feel ashamed. Another (friendlier, more professional?) workplace will be a good fit for you and this is just a detour you weren’t expecting on the path to a fulfilling job you enjoy.
posted by plonkee at 12:36 AM on April 4 [43 favorites]

You wrote that, "The atmosphere was a little bit hostile." Do you want to be a good fit with hostile? Sounds like you don't and should be happy that you are not. Look around the community a little bit more. I suspect there may be a few people who are also not a good fit with that group. Maybe even your predecessor. No matter how small the town, there will be "the other group of people." This is one step to finding yours.
posted by Gotanda at 12:59 AM on April 4 [10 favorites]

If their only reason given is "not a good fit" and your main difference from other colleagues is a protected characteristic such gender or race then that sounds at least worth talking to a lawyer about. Document everything, this is a awful way for them to treat people and you deserve better.
posted by JonB at 1:08 AM on April 4 [94 favorites]

Can you be more specific about the hostile atmosphere?

Sometimes people are just horrible, and it's not about you.
posted by medusa at 1:32 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]

I will bet any amount of money that the old doctors got stopped at the local transfer station or grocery store with, "Oh, we just love Dr. Nightdoctress! They're marvelous!" Patients probably requested you specifically and word got around, and that threatened the insecure doctors. The only mistake you made was to be great at the job.

It may be worth your while to speak to a lawyer but in the meantime, I've been told my contract would not be renewed because it wasn't a good fit. Initially, it is a terrible experience because we all want to see ourselves as hard-working people who can get along anywhere, right?

But what I learned over time is this: maybe we don't actually want to fit in everywhere. I was enthusiastic and always up for trying new things and supporting staff and I was also not renewed. My coworkers were all walking around on eggshells and afraid to take risks and try new things and everyone just kept their heads down. They clocked in, did the minimum and left. Nobody cared about anything and it was a culture of hostility and gossip and general paranoia and nastiness. And this was at a high school. Talk about a place where you really don't want to see nasty and angry and scared people running the show.

In hindsight, I ended up being thankful for the opportunity to leave. Had I stayed, I would be miserable and constantly crying and fighting with people who have always done things one way and couldn't care less about the work. In leaving, I took a pay the bills job, got my ducks in a row, and am now moving to an amazing opportunity in a place I've always wanted to live.

When it's a bad fit, take a step back and consider how lucky you are to have dodged a bullet. You did nothing wrong.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:14 AM on April 4 [75 favorites]

Over-performing and youthful enthusiasm are depressingly easy ways to upset some people. As a young white guy I worked for an old white guy who told me about a job he’d had when he was younger, where the boss had told him to slow down his work because he was making his coworkers look bad. A few months after relating that anecdote, he fired me because I’d embarrassed him by cheerfully pointing out a simple solution to a mistake he’d made. It didn’t matter that I’d been helpful and efficient; what mattered was that I was a young guy threatening the status of an old guy. Two jobs later a senior coworker without the power to fire anyone started badmouthing me, and I couldn’t make sense of it until someone else clued me in that I’d been succeeding at difficult projects that he regarded as his territory, and I hadn’t been suitably deferential.

Having to move on is a real bummer, but don’t take it as a sign of some mysterious personal failing.
posted by jon1270 at 3:57 AM on April 4 [47 favorites]

That he wasn‘t able to give a legit reason tells me that somebody else wants your job. Somebody who in this small town place is better connected/friends with/related to/more palatable to the white old guys on top.

This sucks but I hope it at least feels better than thinking it was somehow your fault.

Look at it this way, if you had actually done something wrong, they would have jumped all over that as a reason to fire you. They looked. They looked SO HARD. But you were consistently excellent. You were such an excellent worker, they were forced to hem and haw at you and hope you‘ll go away without making trouble.

Old white men suck. I‘m very sorry and I wish we had more doctors like you.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:20 AM on April 4 [81 favorites]

Oof. Of COURSE this feels terrible. If you had done something wrong, you might actually feel less bad in a way, you know?

I think this is a case akin to when a partner just isn't that into you. It's not something that can be forced, and you wouldn't want to do that anyway.

Please focus on the fact that you did nothing wrong here. Be gentle with yourself!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:27 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]

When you feel worried about seeing your former coworkers around town, think about the fact that your former patients are all around town as well, and how much goodwill they have for you. There are way more good vibes than bad vibes from your fellow townspeople, I bet.
posted by sallybrown at 4:36 AM on April 4 [21 favorites]

I asked him why, asked about any specific cases, but he was very vague and didn’t really give specifics.

FWIW, "Not a good fit" is a management weasel-term they use when they actually have no demonstrable reason to fire you. This is just office politics and you shouldn't take it personally. Chances are, you aren't the first person who has been let go like this from there.

The atmosphere was a little bit hostile - lots of old while male docs, some small town culture type thing going on

Sounds like a good-old-boy office to me. It's probably best that you're leaving now, rather than having to work in a hostile environment for the next several years. Even a small town of 20K must have multiple physician offices. You'll land on your feet elsewhere with no problem.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:51 AM on April 4 [8 favorites]

Take a look at your employment contract. Do you have a non-compete? If not, and depending on your desire to deal with the business end, consider opening your own practice to provide an alternative for townsfolk who would rather see a doctor other than an old white man who is so petty he can't even come up with a reason to fire his colleague.

In other words, if you can't join 'em, fight 'em.
posted by basalganglia at 4:52 AM on April 4 [49 favorites]

Perhaps it would be worth discussing with a lawyer if you want to offer to go without making a fuss in return for the non-compete clause being voided (if there is one and if it is relevant in your case).
But yeah - lawyer up so you understand your options.
posted by Omnomnom at 5:32 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]

As other have said, you shouldn't blame yourself for "messing up," because this is more likely a personality thing than a competence thing.

As for the humiliation/ feeling unwelcome: just hold your head high. I went through a contentious divorce with salacious details in a similarly small town where my ex was very active in the community, and while it was definitely a topic of gossip, the drama didn't last long. Even if other folks at the hospital think negatively of you (which I doubt is the case, honestly), the situation isn't interesting enough to them for it to become something they're whispering about. Not many people will know; few of those that do will care; those that do care will get over it and mostly forget about it quickly.

Keep on loving your town, and don't let a few old white men ruin it for you.
posted by metasarah at 5:53 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]

If you open your own practice, make sure they can't deny you hospital privileges.
This sounds pretty toxic to me, and soon you'll be glad it ended sooner rather than dragging you down for years.
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:01 AM on April 4 [9 favorites]

Take a look at your employment contract. Do you have a non-compete?

FWIW, most of the time, non-competes are not enforceable if the employee is fired, especially if it wasn't for due-cause. In this case "not a good fit" isn't due-cause.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on April 4 [8 favorites]

I would second the “move elsewhere” suggestion and make sure that you socialize it so your patients can follow you. I have had a lady physician for the last five years and I am an old mostly-white guy and she is terrific and I would totally switch offices to retain her advice if she were fired in a shady way. Or even if she just decided to move.

If you do have a nocompete, consult an attorney to see if it is really enforceable in your state if they elected to not renew.

Good luck. You sound kind part of the solution set while your former colleagues are in the problem set.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:25 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]

he was very vague and didn’t really give specifics

...because if he did actually tell you what it was that was making the other doctors think you weren't a good fit, he'd be giving you cause to sue his ass for illegal discrimination.

It is devastating to encounter in person a cluster of the kind of cartoon villains you've heard other people complain about and realize that they're actually really truly in charge of something and will actually really truly be almost impossible to shift. But don't fall into the trap of believing that the discomfort of unprofessional fuckwit dinosaurs who find themselves working alongside anybody who isn't also an unprofessional fuckwit dinosaur means there's something wrong with you.
posted by flabdablet at 6:26 AM on April 4 [23 favorites]

This almost sounds like it could be a great opportunity to open your own practice; many families have a lot of trouble finding young, motivated, involved and caring female physicians, especially in a smaller town with old white men culture going on in the medical community.
posted by OnefortheLast at 6:27 AM on April 4 [9 favorites]

knowing that I’m getting fired from this job, and have to see the docs and nurses around town... it’s humiliating.

There's a really really good chance that several of those nurses would fall over themselves for the chance to come and work for your new practice.
posted by flabdablet at 6:29 AM on April 4 [29 favorites]

It’s a small town, around 20K people, and knowing that I’m getting fired from this job, and have to see the docs and nurses around town... it’s humiliating.

After decades of escaping layoffs, I was laid off in a round where 47 people were laid off was also because I was no longer a good fit. Maybe you are a bit like me, although I had suffered some academic failures, in my work life I had been top of almost every evaluation to that point. I literally could not conceive of what happens after you get laid off and I felt a lot of shame.

Friend, I am here to tell you that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not just because I made improvements in my employment, but because I no longer have that sense of fear around getting let go or fired or having a bad review. There is entirely life after and it is sweet. It is okay to feel all your feelings! But you are going to get a better job, with people who appreciate your talents and skills and who do not just fire you out of the blue. This is not how a healthy workplace works. You will not be spending your career in an unhealthy workplace.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:39 AM on April 4 [19 favorites]

I’m an over-40 female software professional who got fired a year ago from a company where the tech team was cliquish and bro-y, hostile and obsessed with culture fit. At first I was hurt and angry but now I’m past the mourning, not blaming myself, and with a team at a company that is more diverse, laid-back, and appreciative. Let yourself have all the feelings, but you are not at fault, and you can find a better job where you can breathe better, stretch out, and kick butt.
posted by matildaben at 7:00 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]

"Not a good fit" can sometimes be a cover for some sort of discrimination. Are you not white/female/older than average? If so, I would look more into this.
posted by heavenknows at 7:05 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]

I’m waiting, but in the meantime I just feel absolutely distraught. I don’t understand why I would be disliked, and I honestly can’t think of any cases that went wrong, or bad patient encounters, or anything like that. More than that, I now feel unwelcome in the community. It’s a small town, around 20K people, and knowing that I’m getting fired from this job, and have to see the docs and nurses around town... it’s humiliating.

It should not be particularly expensive to consult with an attorney with a practice that includes a focus on employment law. I encourage you to consider this option, to help tailor your approach to your specific situation. At minimum, please consider the implications for your severance package, and how potentially helpful an attorney could be in helping protect your privacy, your rights, and your future employment opportunities.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:14 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]

Thank you to everyone for your comments. I’m actually an ER doc, so no opportunity to open my own practice. I have another job, at a hospital further away, where I’ve been working for the past theee years without an issue, so at least I still have another job, though with the commute it’s not ideal. At this position, I was an independent contractor, so while I haven’t reviewed my contract yet I’m pretty sure it’s an at-will kind of thing, where they can fire me without cause. One thing I didn’t mention - the director had said that some of the nurses also said that they didn’t think I was a good fit. I really thought that I was getting along well with them... it just doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve asked to go over any specific cases or issues, and I’m hoping that he at least gives me the courtesy of providing the additional feedback.

It’s rough... I’ve had a very hard year - my mom has cancer, our neighbors sued us over our dog (long story, he now needs to be muzzled although he has never bitten anyone), we have a house and a toddler and all the things that come with that... this is just one more blow. It’s a lot to deal with.
posted by nightdoctress at 7:29 AM on April 4 [18 favorites]

Ugh. I get the "death by a thousand cuts" issue. It's one we're dealing with also. If you can, perhaps take yourself for a retreat for a few days (it's what I'm doing) and have yourself a good long strategic planning session with yourself. I am really looking forward to mine - really giving me some forward momentum instead of getting mired down in all of the bad stuff that has happened to us over the last 6 months. The bad stuff happened, but the future is where I want my head.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:37 AM on April 4 [18 favorites]

One thing I didn’t mention - the director had said that some of the nurses also said that they didn’t think I was a good fit. I really thought that I was getting along well.

I’ve found that there is often reflexive dislike from both men and women of women in positions of authority, especially when the woman with authority is younger. Ingrained sexism is a real thing, especially in professions like yours where there are strong hierarchies among different roles, meaning a woman will be giving out orders.
posted by sallybrown at 7:37 AM on April 4 [36 favorites]

I used to staff law firms, and it was a very common thing for (mostly female) admins to refuse to work for female attorneys. They (often both the attorneys and the admins) were uncomfortable with the status inequality when it wasn't accompanied by the familiar man=boss structure. I suspect something like this is happening here.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:53 AM on April 4 [19 favorites]

None of us can give you legal advice about what to do, but seriously:
At this position, I was an independent contractor, so while I haven’t reviewed my contract yet I’m pretty sure it’s an at-will kind of thing, where they can fire me without cause.
A local attorney can help explain that "at will" and "independent contractor" does not mean that you can be subject to unlawful discrimination, and legal advice tailored to your specific situation may help you navigate this horrible situation. For example, from Findlaw:
There are actually many labor laws an employer can break in wrongfully terminating an at-will employee. Just because you are an at-will employee, does not give your employer the right to be discriminatory. As discussed below, state and federal law prohibits discrimination based on several categories, including race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, pregnancy status, and, in many states, sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, you have the most information about what has happened, so you are always in the best position to make a decision on how to proceed. I'm just trying to encourage you to get accurate information about your rights so you can better assess what to do next.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:57 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]

I would encourage you to visit an employment attorney just to find out where you stand, because this smells very strange. This may (or may not) also help you feel less devastated and more pissed off.

I would also encourage you to go have a couple of sessions with a kind and empathetic therapist. As you say, it isn't just you -- there is a lot going on here, and you will be less resilient in the face of this contract non-renewal than you otherwise might be, given everything else going on.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:10 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]

Re: some nurses allegedly complaining, it could be a "you're not from here" thing. Every small town has cliques; somewhere in your community is a group of people who welcome newcomers and will view getting fired by these dudes as a badge of honor.
posted by toastedcheese at 10:36 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]

One thing I didn’t mention - the director had said that some of the nurses also said that they didn’t think I was a good fit.

Whenever you get this vague lack of documentation for this sort of thing, what it usually means is, "I made a decision and I am trying to justify it to myself, not to you." Not that other people might not have said things, but if the guy isn't giving you details and context, it's because he's past the point of caring how you feel about it and is trying to make himself feel better about this. So, yes, push for details--because he isn't entitled to feel better about this when he failed to address whatever these issues were earlier. But don't expect much, because at this stage it isn't really about you. People will totally lie about this kind of thing, and even when they're not outright lying, it's very common to aggregate every negative thing they've ever heard into "many people agree with me" even when that's not strictly what those people expressed at the time. They don't necessarily expect you to believe them; they just want to feel like they're more rational about these decisions than they really are.
posted by Sequence at 10:44 AM on April 4 [11 favorites]

Also remember that some of the nurses also saying that they don't think you are a good fit, could be anything from people vaguely agreeing with the guy that can fire them because they don't want to make waves to one nurse suggested you working so hard was making extra work for her. Hell it's the sort of non committal bs hard to prove lie someone would tell to make it look less like we're getting rid of you because you have a dick & your enthusiasm makes us all look bad. That is totally how I'd read the whole situation, you made them uncomfortable in their safe little bubble of half assing their job.
posted by wwax at 11:15 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]

Interesting that administration would care about nursing staff’s opinion regarding a physician, unless egregious behavior on physcian’s part. I’m a nurse and this sounds suspect. I know that the ED is a different culture but I don’t remember ever being asked if I felt a physician was a good fit, and I have never worked where I could voice that sort of opinion. I guess I could write somebody up but I have never felt that poorly about a doctor.

I’m sorry this happened. You may ask for some sort of exit interview and ask about their concerns and issues for future reference. Also remember that nobody will know or care except for a very small group and even those people are most likely not judging you or know the story. I wish you luck and happiness Take good care care and try not to worry. It was a moment in time and it’s over. I am cynical but healthcare is a shitshow. I tend to blame it on the money. Could that be it?
posted by loveandhappiness at 12:45 PM on April 4 [5 favorites]

Check your memail!
posted by headnsouth at 2:24 PM on April 4

If you do pursue legal action you might want to have the mods anonymize this question.
posted by spitbull at 6:28 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]

lots of old while male docs,

This would be an excellent thing to just come right out and "ask" as a warning shot. "I've noticed the demographics skew old white male here. Any chance I'm being let go because I'm a woman? I hope your records can substantiate some of this "bad fit" and show that's not the case. Because it seems like you can't tell me a reason."
posted by ctmf at 7:02 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

The ED director called me this evening and we spoke some more. Basically he said that several consultants had pulled him aside and mentioned vague issues with me - no specific cases, just generally not liking my management of this or that. I asked for specific examples - specific critiques - really anything - and he didn’t have any. He spoke with the other partners in the group and it’s been decided that it’s just not a good fit. He gave me the option of finishing out my shifts through June (I only had 2 each month) but I don’t want to work in a place where I’m apparently not wanted, so he is going to cover them. I’m pretty devastated, especially since I’m coming away from this without any specifics as to what I may have done wrong. It’s crazy. Thanks for listening.
posted by nightdoctress at 11:43 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

Again, if they can't give you specifics you've done nothing wrong; you've just been unlucky enough to end up working with fuckheads.
posted by flabdablet at 6:50 AM on April 5 [11 favorites]

I think he's lyyyyyyyyying his weasel face off about all of it. I think you'd have caught a whiff if "several" consultants had vague issues sufficiently severe, though vague, that they'd pull your boss aside and whisper about it. I think if there were anything to this he would have specifics. I think you should trust your own feelings and observations about your relationships with the nurses and trust very much your observation that "it's crazy." It is crazy. It's not you, it's this jerk and maybe a few old dinosaurs that got disgruntled. I wish you'd lawyer up, but if you decide it's not worth the slog, please leave with your dignity intact and with your head held high knowing that they're worse off without you.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:50 AM on April 5 [25 favorites]

Yeah it smells to me like you have a legal case here. At will or not.
posted by spitbull at 11:34 AM on April 5 [2 favorites]

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