It is dark and snowy outside. The temperature has dropped to six below. A fire is blazing on the hearth. This week I have been at a course on leadership and ethics, part of my specialist training. Although such courses are always stimulating, this one has been a struggle, largely because I have in the last week decided to drop out of the specialist training program, and it is hard to stay focussed when there are so many questions going through my mind.
On Monday with snow once again falling fast from grey leaden skies I attempted for the fourth time my driving test, and finally passed. I certainly drove better than the previous tests, but most important of all I think I managed to demonstrate that I understood defensive driving, eco-driving, and “avläsning” (see previous blog). The process of getting a Swedish license has taught me much about driving, but it has taught me more about myself. Failure is painful, especially for an old guy like me who thinks he knows it all. I have learnt that it is important to remain teachable, to never assume anything, and to never rely on past achievements. Staying on the cutting edge means adopting an attitude of humility and teachability throughout life. Avläsning means reading the signs and the situation, becoming aware, and adjusting what I am doing accordingly. My new Swedish license arrived in the mail today. It is the most expensive license I have ever obtained. I hope I will never take it for granted.
Coming to Sweden has involved being questioned in many aspects of life, not just driving. It has been about starting over, first with language, returning to toddler stage and gradually struggling through the pain of childhood. This is hard for a doctor, for whom communication is the basic tool of the trade. It is hard for someone who has always prided himself in being able to express himself proficiently, both in speaking and writing. After four years I am still far from fluent in Swedish, though I understand almost everything. I feel proud of the fact that I can sit in lectures on ethics and leadership and be able to follow the thread. But to write an essay on the subject would tax my linguistic ability beyond my capacity. And to stand up and give a speech would be frightening.
My professional competence has also been questioned. Getting registered as a doctor was fairly straightforward, despite my very basic language skills. However, although I have been recognised as a specialist GP in Australia since the early 90s I gradually became aware that it carried no weight at all in Sweden. If I was to be able to call myself a “distriktsläkare” I would have to go through five years of specialist training. None of my previous 20 years of medical experience would count towards that training period. The training for me would be the same as for a newly registered Swedish doctor.
This has been a difficult process for me, because it has involved a shift in the way I see myself, from experienced and competent to a beginner who has much to learn. It has also meant that I have had to be satisfied with a much lower salary than I received in Australia. But the biggest problem for me has been the change in direction from one who was wanting to moving out of general practice to one who is just starting to move in. I have struggled with this change in identity and direction for a year now. But in the last week I have realized that this is unsustainable. I need to change direction, back to where I was four years ago when we left Australia.
How to do that, and exactly where that will take us I am not sure. But I cannot live with myself if I continue down the path that I started a year ago. I started it against my better judgement on the advice of Swedish colleagues. They said simply that to be a doctor in Sweden meant to be a specialist, and that doing the specialist training was the only sensible way forward. Sure it meant five years of being a trainee, but I would be paid the whole time, and eventually I will get a higher salary and professional recognition as a specialist. But it has never felt right. I have felt the whole time that I am walking on a path that I do not wish to be on, toward a destination at which I have no great desire to arrive. It is time to go back to the crossroads and choose another way.
I have yet to communicate this decision to my boss at work, or my supervisor in the training program. I will do so next week when I am back at the health centre. How they will react I don’t know. Perhaps I will be fired and have to look for a new job. I hope they keep me on as a non-specialist doctor, but that may not be possible.
Moving to Sweden has produced many challenges. The weather is probably the easiest of them, even if it does sometimes feel a bit severe, a little extreme. Speaking, driving, working have been the real mountains to climb, and I am still far from the top. But now after four years I think I am finally coming back to an understanding of who I really am, and what I really want from the life left to me. I need above all to be true to myself, to the calling that God has given me. To stop listening to the voices of “reason” around me and start again listening to the still small voice of revelation. It is a little frightening and full of uncertainty, but the opportunity for a new adventure beckons, the kind of adventure that only God could imagine, and I think I will not ignore it any longer.