I practiced 12 years as an obstetrician in Des Moines. Malpractice insurance cost is so high, though, and the practice went asunder. I was frustrated, angry and didn’t want to do the job any more. I was miserable on call. That wasn’t being fair to patients.
As a surgeon, I’d seen anesthesiology. I knew I had to come up with some way to support my family. I thought the path of least resistance was to look at another medical specialty. I applied to the Nebraska Medical Center [residency program]. The director liked seasoned medical professionals. He knew I was a pianist; he liked more well-rounded people. I got the residency and moved to Nebraska.
That was probably the most difficult time in my life. Anesthesiology has the most basic sciences of all the medical specialties; it had been 20-some years since I had that. I thought I didn’t have the aptitude like I did in obstetrics. I suffered from depression and anxiety. The low moment was feeling trapped. No one told me I could quit; that didn’t dawn on me.
As a practicing surgeon, I thought I was God, and everyone affirms it. I found out that I’m a normal human – one day I was a physician, the next day I might not have a job. That was good life training. It was a terrible time with good life lessons learned.
Getting into recovery and getting in touch with God helped. My family and I went through it as a team. There’s a saying: “Let go and let God.” Physicians try to control everything, but you can’t always. The other big lesson was to live each 24 hours at a time, to be in the moment and enjoy life.
Kevin Emge, D.O.’86, FACOOG, is section chief of anesthesiology at Grinnell Regional Medical Center in Grinnell, IA. He recently became an ordained minister with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell. An accomplished pianist and admitted “Type A personality,” he’s also competed in piano competitions internationally and in the U.S., including at the Iowa State Fair, and has been a longtime participant in marathons, triathlons and Ironman competitions.