This week, I am talking to Dr. Lynette Charity. Dr. Charity has a unique story as a woman of color growing up wanting to be a doctor. Her story is full of hardship, but also endurance and humor.
This week, I had an amazing conversation with Dr. Lynette Charity. She describes her career journey, which is pretty unusual. She had an early childhood tragedy that actually set her on a trajectory to desire to go to med school at a time when young women of color made up about 2% of graduates of med school. At that time, she went on to a long successful career in medicine. She shares stories from when she was in the army to marrying a white physician at a time when interracial marriage was only recently legal and later on, she shares about how she has been able to reinvent herself as a physician, but also as an author, as a speaker, as a coach and as a stand-up comic. So I hope that you enjoy today’s conversation as much as I did speaking with Dr. Lynette Charity.
Hello, and welcome to episode 80 of APM success. I’m very pleased to be joined today by Dr. Lynette Charity. She is a board certified anesthesiologist with over 35 years of clinical experience. We’re going to talk today about her story, her career journey and how she’s reinvented herself in recent years to work with physicians on many of the specific career and personal challenges that she’s observed during her time in medicine, Dr. Charity, thank you very much for joining us
Dr. Lynette Charity (01:41):
Today. Thank you so much for having me, Justin. This is wonderful.
I’m I’m really excited. I know we spoke a couple of weeks ago and you are a physician with interesting diverse experience and great perspective. And I can’t wait to dive in sounds like a plan. So tell me a little bit about the beginnings of like your, your background, your family, and how you first became interested in medicine.
Dr. Lynette Charity (02:02):
That is a good question. So when I was nine years old, now you have to understand I am 68 now. And I grew up in the segregated South and I mean, it was literally black and white. I had colored friends. I had, I went to a colored school and I lived in the colored neighborhood and I didn’t really know what my purpose was. And I think some of what drove me to my dream was the fact that when I was six years old, my then two year old sister was hit by a car and killed right in front of me. And I felt well, I, I felt a loss, but then it was that thing of you know, what, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? What what’s happening here? You know, my sister is no longer with me.
Dr. Lynette Charity (02:54):
So I, I struggled with that. You know, probably is when my own personal struggle with depression started. But when I got to nine years of age, I was watching a TV show, a new medical TV show, and it was called Ben Casey. And I was watching it on my black and white TV. And after the credits rolled and everything, all of a sudden this dark eyes, dark haired, handsome brooding guy comes on and he looked into the TV and he goes, Lynette, you’re going to be a doctor. At least that’s what I heard. And so I even turned to my mom. I said, mama, I’m going to be a doctor. And she goes, that’s nice child. But about three weeks later, when I came home from school, there was a toy doctor kit on my bed and it had a stethoscope in it and a fake syringe and a reflex hammer.
Dr. Lynette Charity (03:52):
And Dr. Charity was in the house. Now, the biggest problem was that it was the step, it was still segregated. And I honestly felt that I needed to go to the white high school because I heard they had better books. And I knew that education was going to be my escape plan out of my neighborhood, out of my life, out of everything. And so when the schools did integrate, I was 15 years old about the time when they did, I told my mom I’m going to the white high school. And she goes, no, honey, I really don’t want you to do that. They might hurt you. And this was right after, this was about 10 years after the little rock nine integrating and Arkansas, and one of the girls there had been pushed down some stairs and it was just really awful. And my mom just was worried about it, but I said, I’ve got to do this.
Dr. Lynette Charity (04:49):
So I forged her name on the slip. And when she found out about it a little mad, but she says, obviously this is something you want to do. So anyway, I forged my mom’s. She found out, but she still let me go. Now, the problem was that there were no, there was no bus system in place for me to get to the school. So I had to walk from my neighborhood across a busy highway to the white neighborhood, through the white neighborhood, to the white high school. And I used to be a member of Toastmasters. And so I told the story and it was called I’m going. And it was basically the story of me walking through this neighborhood. And because I was doing it in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I framed it in a I’m Dorothy, walking through the haunted forest. And, and essentially that’s what it was like, because I met a lot of wicked witches along the way.
Dr. Lynette Charity (05:45):
And, you know I even got some dog poop thrown at me. I got names called, but I made it to the school. And then it’s sort of like, my life just moved. I still don’t understand, but everything just rolled along. I joined anything I could join. I was excellent in sciences. And then it was time for me to go to college, to apply for college. And, you know, the guidance counselor there said now, Lynette, you might be able to get in windows, Negro colleges, but no medical school is going to take a colored girl. Cause I told her I really wanted to go to college so I could go to, and I was the first generation going to go to college. Well, lo and behold, somehow I was discovered it was affirmative action during that period of time. I got a bus ticket sent to me by a woman’s college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chatham college, and went up there, interviewed, came back home with a four year academic scholarship and an acceptance.
Dr. Lynette Charity (06:47):
And I made sure that I walked around the school with that letter and I made sure my guidance counselor saw it too. And, and, and that just started, you know, once I got into college, it seemed like the ball just kept rolling. I went from college, I got accepted to medical school, my third year of college. So I spent my fourth year doing my final presentation that I had to do to graduate. And I took basket weaving. I took some of the arts, you know, the arts of liberal arts because I had lived in the science building. So, so th that, that’s basically it along that route.
Tell me about, I’m just envisioning this, you know, 15 year old girl who has this just steely determination. And I referenced before this call the med school, ethnic demographics at this time. And I just grabbed a snapshot from 1980, about 6% identified at that time as black and African-American and shockingly in my mind, that’s only grown to 7.1% of all applicants as of 19 or as of 2016. But if we stay in 1980 for a moment and furthermore only about 25% at that time were female. So it’s just like you keep chunking a skinnier and skinnier part of this pie chart. How do you, how do you explain the determination, the perspective the I’m not afraid to be different and I’m going to do a thing that I probably don’t ever know. Anyone that’s done something like this before. Where did that come from?
Dr. Lynette Charity (08:24):
Well, it’s hard to say. I can say that when I did get accepted to medical school, I still have the letter that I wrote to my great aunt. My great aunt was one of the first blacks and the first one of the first black women. And back then we were called colored, but she became the principal of an elementary school. And she could have been a lot of things in her life. But of course back then, you can imagine, you know, she, there was no opportunity her, but she told me when I got accepted, she says, you know, Lynette, I always want it to go to medical school, but I wasn’t able to do it in my time. And I’m just so excited that you are going, but I feel a lot that I was driven to do all of this because I had my secret weapon and believe it or not, my secret weapon at the time was the memory of my little sister, because the, when I saw her die, I’m six years old.
Dr. Lynette Charity (09:24):
And the first thing I thought was, you know, I wish I could help her, but I’m only six years old and I don’t know how to help her. I mean, she, she was already, she was dead, but, but the point was, I didn’t really know that at the time, but when Bing, Casey put whatever into my head, it was like, maybe just, maybe I can say future Beverly’s. I can say future people. Now my exposure to positions growing up, hospitals were also segregated. And and I did meet black doctors, black men, doctors. I’d never met a black woman doctor. And my mom was very good friends with this one, one doctor. And so I had that exposure, but that really didn’t shape me at all. What shaped me was the fact that I just wanted to do this and no one was going to tell me that I couldn’t do it.
Dr. Lynette Charity (10:20):
That’s just it. And I have to admit that, you know, when I went to Tufts, I went to Tufts in 1974, there were 13 of us and we were evenly mixed. There were, I think, six women and seven men. And we all graduated and it was a struggle. It was a struggle. Boston was not a pleasant place in the seventies, but we all made it through, which is, you know, which is good. I went there a few years after that. And you’re right. A few years after that, I, I was visiting there and there were only five identifying as black or African-American students met out of spot. How many were in that class? Our class was it was, I think it was 200. Yeah. Yeah. And I even spoke at one of the forums that they had. Cause I take my, I have a, I have my framed picture of my class and I, a lot of times, cause I like visual AIDS.
Dr. Lynette Charity (11:22):
I showed it to him. I said, what happened? What happened? You know, because there were not that many. And I was I was actually the white coat ceremony speaker two years ago at Tufts. And it was the same thing. When I watched, there were 200 students, I watched them walk across the stage and I could count on one hand how many and what is, why that is? I think that education is a big part. I mean, educating the public educating we need to figure out a way to bring back a system where we promote anyone to, even if I don’t want to call it affirmative action, but we need to find those potential people out there in society that we can help get through medical school. We’re going to be down by, you know, I mean, I think they said 150,000 positions, you know, in 10 years, where are we going to get our doctors from, what are we going to be doing? It’s, it’s a scary thought because I’m of Medicare age now. And I need someone to take care of me.
Oh, that post med school, you spent some time in the army medical Corps, perhaps during which time you met your husband, maybe. So I’d love to hear kind of that progression and what that stage of your life and career looked like.
Dr. Lynette Charity (12:47):
So I graduate from medical school. I had already been accepted to my anesthesia residency, but I had to do a one-year internship and I decided I hadn’t been home for a while. So I decided that I would go home and I did my internal medicine. When your internship at Norfolk general hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, I am from Virginia. And one thing as a woman in medicine, you have to sometimes weigh what you want to do. So I really wanted to be a doctor. And I wondered if I could be a doctor, a wife, a mother, all of those things. So I made a decision at that time, I’d worked so hard to do this, that I was just going to be a doctor. So I go and I start my internship. I’m walking down the hall the first day. And this nurse was showing me around and telling me what my duties are going to be.
Dr. Lynette Charity (13:44):
And this guy walks out in front of me, dark curly hair. He had on, you know, glasses, white shirt, jacket I couldn’t even see his eyes. He had Hazel eyes, you know, he had a pocket protector with some calipers in it. And, and he had on gray slacks with one black sock and one dark blue sock. And he looked, he sort of looked my way. And then he turned and he walked away and I asked the nurse, I said, who is that? And he said, she says, Oh, that’s Dr. Sado. He’s going to be your senior resident. And I immediately went, does he have a girlfriend? And a year later, just to let you know, we were married. And the interesting story behind that is that we got married in Norfolk, Virginia, and it was only 12 years after it was allowed for us to get married because I, Oh, I forgot to tell you, my husband is white.
Dr. Lynette Charity (14:46):
So, so it was, it was very interesting when we got married because we got married in my church queen street Baptist church. If you needed a doctor that day, you needed to come to queen street Baptist church because they were all at my wedding. But the interesting thing was that, yeah, we would not have been able to get married in Virginia. We would have had to go somewhere else. So that was interesting. But then I went back to do my anesthesia residency in Boston, at Beth Israel hospital. My husband had to finish up his internal medicine residency down in Norfolk. And he notified me that he decided that he really wanted to go into the military. And he said, just to let you know, I told them that you’re an anesthesiology. You’re going to be an anesthesiologist and you want to sign up to, and it’s like, well, thank you for ball and tolding me that I sweat I’m going to do.
Dr. Lynette Charity (15:44):
But it turned out to be a good, a good choice because he became a position. He came a position at a military institution up in Boston and air mass Fort Devins. And I finished my residency. We both went in his captains and then we were sent to San Francisco, California. And as part of my signup, I got to do a year at university of California, San Francisco. I did two fellowships there. And then I went on to teach residents at Letterman army medical center. And it actually was a, a great experience because number one, it was good comedy material. I do some standup comedy and I tell people that it’s like private Benjamin and this old movie called private Benjamin. They promised me all these things. And then all of a sudden, they say, well, you know, Dr. Charity, you’re going to have to still go through officer’s bootcamp.
Dr. Lynette Charity (16:41):
And it’s like, I’m a doctor. Why should I have to repel off a buildings and shoot guns and all of that? And they go, no, you have to do it. And having a fear of Heights going up a 40 foot tower and having to repel off of it. But here’s where you learn leadership skills. I forced myself to climb up that tower and I meet the, the jump master up there. And, you know, he says, now you’re just gonna lean back. And then the first one is the hardest one. If you don’t go splat, you’ll be fine. And, and so I do it and then I get the hang of it and I come down and I go, Ooh, I did it. I did it. I did it. And the next person in line said, you know, Lynette, I am so glad you did that because I was about to run away.
Dr. Lynette Charity (17:31):
But seeing you do it, I think I can do it because we were both talking in line at the time. And, and she was a woman, woman of color position and everything. She said, Oh, I can do this. So she did it. And then everybody else did it. Now, the, the shooting of the guns was a different thing. I always tell people that story of I was shooting my M 16, you know, on the range and I was doing pretty well. And then I had to shoot this 45 and I’d never had a gun in my hand. And the recoil, the bullets were going all over the place. And they had said now th th th the guy said the Sergeant major, he said now he had, everybody has a Southern accent and my, and my jokes, but it goes now after you shoot your weapon, step back from the platform, put your weapon on the platform and step back. Now, I did that the correct way with the M 16, the 45 I’m standing there and they go general on deck. It turns out that the general decided he wanted to come and see us shoot our weapons. So I remember I stepped back from the platform.
Dr. Lynette Charity (18:48):
I turned to salute the general lab, ammo lab, animal lab, ammo. Everybody hits the ground. Somebody jumps on top of the general to protect them. And then I hear the Sergeant going captain Charity put the weapon down, I’m standing there saluting. And I D and then I looked up and I have a 45 at my temple. And it’s like, and, and after it was all over, the general gets up. And of course, these are pallets. It’s very dirty. He gets his uniform and he just looks at me and he goes captain chaired, Al, we’ll speak with you later. And it’s like, Oh my God. So, so there are, there are times like that. But the one thing that I learned there is rank has its privilege just to let you know, and that being a woman and being black, had nothing to do with it.
Dr. Lynette Charity (19:46):
That was the one good thing I saw in being in the military. I learned leadership skills and people looked at my bars. They looked at at what, that was, no one ever came up to me and said, I’m not going to follow your order because you’re female. They just said, yes, ma’am even my brother who was a command Sergeant major when he retired from the army, couldn’t understand how his sister had started out as a captain and made it to Lieutenant Colonel. And I couldn’t explain to him the whole doctor thing kinda. Yeah. But, but that was a wonderful experience, except when they wanted to separate me and my husband, I had a baby while I was in the military. And they wanted to send my husband to one facility, wanted to send me to another. And I said, I have a child, you know, we can’t do that. And so my husband said, well, one of us has to get out. And I said, anesthesia at the time was a little bit more profitable in the civilian sector, then the military sector. So I stayed out, my husband stayed in for 22 years. And let me tell you that pension is coming in handy right now. Yeah.
Yeah. It’s, it’s funny. I, you know, I I’ve spoken a bit and interacted with Dr. Jedd wool, Paul who is the PR anesthesia residency program director in, at Johns Hopkins. And he’s done a lot of work in thinking about medical education reform and helping adult learners create a situation. That’s more it’s more just like designed to help productively people in all different walks of life today, right now in the real world. And he made, I heard him make the observation. I think it was last year at ASA. He said the residency was designed for a person who’s married with a stay-at-home spouse to deal with all the other things so that the person who’s, the resident can work a hundred hours a week and totally turn off their kind of personal life for years. And if we want to have more diverse representation, not even, not even ethnically, but just if we want married people and people who are parents, people who have other pursuits to be able to be doctors, we’ve got to create a residency track that allows them to have some kind of life and to be able to manage that.
Have you found that that’s evolved over time at all in your experience?
Dr. Lynette Charity (22:09):
Well, let me just tell you that it was still my responsibility to work 80 to a hundred hour weeks, even though I had children. And in fact, when I the first time I got pregnant, I was a fellow doing my OB anesthesia residency at UCS F and I was putting an epidural in a patient. And she was telling me all about, you know, the fact that she thought that she was just having Braxton Hicks and everything, but it turns out she was in labor. I go, Oh, I have those all the time. In fact, I’m having a tightening right now. So I get her epidural in and I do that. And the nurse says Dr. Charity I just want to put you on the monitor just to check. And she put me on the monitor and I was having contractions and I got examined and I’m only 32 weeks.
Dr. Lynette Charity (23:00):
I’m only 32 weeks. And she goes you’re in labor. And at that point I had to stop. I had to stop what I was doing and go on bedrest. And in the military though, it worked very well. And, and even my fellowship helped me to get through all of that. And once I delivered my baby at 36 weeks I went back and started finishing up. Now I was in private practice when I got pregnant the second time. And I went into preterm labor at 29 weeks. And I still remember I’m in the hospital on Toca Lytics, trying to stop my labor. When one of my partners comes in and says, Oh my goodness, Lynette, do you know what position you’ve put us in? Now, we’ve got to find someone to cover your shifts. Not, not anything about, Oh, I hope you’re doing fine. You know, I hope you don’t have this little 29 weeker. I hope this, you know, and it was like,
Dr. Lynette Charity (24:03):
Dr. Lynette Charity (24:04):
And it, that was difficult. I had worked up to that point. I had done everything. I took the call. I did all of that. And I tell people this, I didn’t, my kids were not raised by wolves, but they were raised by nannies the way my husband and I adjusted to all of this. Because once we made that decision, we were married for four years before we said, all right, you know, actually it was his father. My, my, my husband is actually a Turkish Syrian. And his father was from the old country. And once we had our first baby, he comes up, he goes, I don’t understand. I’m married a woman. She gives me two fine sons, one doctor, one lawyer, you marry a woman. She give you girl. And he
Dr. Lynette Charity (24:49):
Wanted a grand son. So I told my husband because we were going to have one child. I said, I’ll give it one more shot, but just tell dad that you are in charge of the sex. Okay. Well, it turns out we were having a boy, which was fine, but you know, it was just one of these amazing things. How do we now justice? So we had nannies, we had everything. We had someone that cleaned. Now. We were a two income family and like, and we were a two-income family just to let everyone out there know when my husband and I started in medicine as an intern, I made $10,000.
Dr. Lynette Charity (25:32):
Woo. In the Bay area.
Dr. Lynette Charity (25:33):
No, no, no. I made $10,000 as an intern in Virginia. But even when I did my fellowship, I was making $14,000. Yeah. Yeah. And then when I joined the military, they bumped it up to 22,000. But in though in today’s dollars, it would be whatever it is right now that most residents are making. So, but at $10,000, you know, we, and, and he made 14. So we were making $24,000. And I just need to throw this in there because I did talk to Justin about this. When we got married, my sister-in-law said, you’re going to San Francisco. They have something out there called certified by financial planners. You need to get one of those because your income is going to change. It’s going to go up and you will not be able to use H and R block to do your taxes in the future.
Dr. Lynette Charity (26:29):
And that’s what we did. We went to San Francisco and unbeknownst to us, we went in the phone book, there’s something called phone books. People. We went into the phone book and we went into certified financial planners. And there were a gazillion of them didn’t even realize that. And this is 1981. And we picked one and it turns out at what her name was. Ken. When we saw it, we thought it was a guy talking about, you know, mistaking things when we met her. But, you know, she was our certified financial planner, but 30 years. And what she taught us about managing money is that she said, you’re going to start making money, that you may not have realize you were going to make. And what is important is, think about how you were living when you were doing your residency in your internship.
Dr. Lynette Charity (27:27):
Think about that and pay yourself first. Don’t go out and buy the big house, the big this, and in San Francisco, we couldn’t do it anyway, but she set us up on a plan to save money over time and to help us, you know, put our money into investments and all of that. And I still remember, and I’m proud of it. I still remember when we were one millionaires, we were one millionaires and we popped the cork and celebrate it and all of that. And, and what she taught us was good because I think that now with we, we ha and we had no debt. We paid off all about debt over the course of about five years once we got into, but it was different than I must admit. But the one thing that was good is that she taught us money management and, and to not just go out and put ourselves into a lot of debt. And I appreciate her for that. I really do.
Yeah. That’s, that’s great advice. And I’ll just take a minute and make a brief aside. I I recently spoke with Dr. Karen cyber and she’s, she’s a anesthesiologist at a UCLA and president of the CSA and longtime advocate for the specialty. And we’re having this conversation about the 33% problem, which is referring to the reimbursement of anesthesia services from CMS and how this keeps getting cut and cut and cut and cut. So this advice I want to just call out for a minute is only as important as it’s ever been. If you’re an anesthesiologist, and it’s only going to get more important over time, because between 20, 20 and 2021, our friends in Washington have decided that there’s a 10% cut coming for the same services provided for anesthesia, for anybody who’s on Medicare, which is a growing a large and growing segment of our population of what you are now apart. So definitely pay yourself first, pay off your debt. Don’t buy the big house straight out of fellowship or residency, and assume that your compensation isn’t going to continue to go up, assume that the opposite might be the case, because that’s sort of what the macro trends are indicating right now. Unfortunately. Yeah. And, and
Dr. Lynette Charity (29:42):
There’s a lot of competition with paraprofessionals also in the fact that hospitals are trying to cut costs through not employing you know, physicians and, and it’s there, it, it, we can address it. But the bottom line is that we have to be forward thinking in what we’re doing and you know, whether we like it or not, this calling that we have may be a part-time calling in the future, meaning that we, we can still do it. I’ve done it for 41 years. Now. I retired last year. And the only reason why I retired is I was still paying a lot of malpractice and not working that much. But malpractice made me do that. My company made me do that. And I looked at how much money I had to make to pay malpractice, to pay for all. And, and I used to be a locums.
Dr. Lynette Charity (30:38):
I I’d be bald. What I did over the course of my career is as I saw the trends of medicine changing and my job as an anesthesiologist changing, I changed myself. I said, all right, I’m now in a private practice. All right. And then my husband and I, we actually went to Dubai United Arab Emirates because they were paying really good money at the time. And we practiced there for awhile. We came back and then we, I started doing locums work and I found, which was very frustrating. When you think about it, imagine going to a place as a locums, and you’re making twice as much money as the people who are working there are making. And they resent it. Some of the physicians resented us. I said, I, I, I have no beat. I said, quit this job and become a locums because the bottom line is that you can be, you’re more appreciated sometimes as a traveler than you are as a worker bee in the, in the whole system.
Dr. Lynette Charity (31:40):
Yeah. Because, and that’s important, but that’s what I did. I kept evolving. I was chief of a department for a while. I was assistant chief of anesthesia in the military. I became chief of an anesthesia department when I moved to the Tri-Cities Washington, which has Richland, Kennewick and Pascoe. And that was such a frustrating position to be in. I am supposed to be the chief of the department and I have the C suite telling me what to do. And I was at the point where it was, how do, how do I reconcile this? Do I just do what they tell me to do? Because I’m getting paid an additional salary to do this job, or do I just hang it up? And I had to hang it up because my, my scruples, my morals, whatever said, I can’t have someone who’s never been to medical school telling me how to practice, because they will throw me under the bus. If there is problem,
Can you give me a specific maybe anecdote to just illustrate? I know this is a common and deeply frustrating challenge, the chain of command, and having a lot of non-clinicians involved in essentially, you know, clinical indirectly, or sometimes directly clinical decision-making. How did that unfold for you?
Dr. Lynette Charity (32:56):
Well, what happened is I’m the chief of the department. I made a decision that a certain case could not go. I told them, I told the surgeon, you can’t do it. This patient is not prepared properly. I asked you to do XYZ. You didn’t do it. So we’re going to delay the case and we’ll do it later. You know, like five minutes later, the, somebody from the C-suite comes down and says, you know, Dr. Charity the surgeon called me and he needs to get this case done today. So you’re going to do it. And I go, Oh, really? I said, no, you’re going to do it. And they go, no, no, he needs to get this done. I said, I really don’t care that he needs to get this done. Unfortunately, because at the time I was, I was hurting cats. I just to let you know, if you understand that terminology we, we’re not a group.
Dr. Lynette Charity (33:52):
We are all independent practitioners. And I was in charge. They found somebody to do the case. And of course there was a complication that was rectified. But after that, I said, because I was the chief still. And even though none of these people really, you know, they could say she allowed this, but I had no say over it. I just said, no, I don’t want to be in this situation anymore. So I gave them my notice and I, and I moved on. So yeah, this is, and this is a problem with the w nowadays, you know, you’re not, you’re not an independent practitioner anymore. You are part of the hospital. You are a cog in the wheel. They tell you what to do. You have to do all it. You know, I noticed that I was unable really to adapt very well to the electronic medical record system.
Dr. Lynette Charity (34:44):
That’s one thing that, that I just, as an anesthesiologist, things happen in an instant. I don’t have time to be in coding things. And the machines got so fancy. I used to be able to take apart my anesthesia machine and put it back together again. And now it had all of these checklists and things you had to go through to turn it on. And then they had the Pyxis system. I used to care around my drugs and a lock tackle box, and I would sign them out to my patients. But of course, then they’re got there as drug diverting, all these bad things that happen that try to make things better, but they just complicated the issue, trying to get a drug, say, I didn’t get enough drugs for my patient. And I had to go back in the machine to get it I’m in the operating room.
Dr. Lynette Charity (35:30):
So I have to send someone to the machine. Do they have to get it for me using their code? Bring it back to me by then the patient might Uber wedding or the tech acardiac or whatever. And it’s like, this is not eight. This is not right. So all those things fell. So I adjusted myself to do that. I went to a surgery center that was from the eighties, and essentially we had tackle boxes. We had old machines, which I knew how to fix. And, and, and of course they were only ASA one to two patients. But, but and I learned something that I didn’t have. I teach an old dog new tricks. I went off and learned how to do regional ultrasound blocks. And once I learned that it was like, Oh goodness. Now all my ex-lawyer blocks are going to work. Know all of my femoral nerve blocks are going to work.
Dr. Lynette Charity (36:26):
I started doing those and I got so bad at it. And even when I went on locums, they would always put me in lock room. I would do the blocks. And then they would take the nurse. Sonesta would take the patient in the room, but they go, your blocks worked so well, Dr. [inaudible] Ultrasound. This is great. So I, you know, I kept myself actively engaged, but I also wanted to disengage from the politics and bureaucracy of it. But I was at a, at a point in my life I could do that. Not, not everyone today can do that. That’s what,
One thing, Dr. Charity, that I think I admire about your story, and I’m curious to sort of press in a little more is you have this adaptability and this sort of open-mindedness, and I would call it kind of like a spirit of adventure with the different things that you’ve done and the way that you are a sense of identity, I think has evolved over time, because I know with something as demanding as medicine you self identify as a, as a doctor, as a clinician and, and that’s deeply ingrained for, for anyone. And for you, that is something that has been, I think, fungible and has evolved. And you still obviously do identify in that way, but there’s a lot more you know, facets of life that you have explored even recently with coaching and, you know, stand up comedy. You mentioned earlier, how talk a little bit about your own sense of identity and how you think about that and your journey in that way?
Dr. Lynette Charity (37:54):
Well, my signature story is in 2012, which was eight years ago, I was 60 years old and I had tried, I tried to be a player. I try to work in the system. I became an anesthesiologist back where I used to be cheap, but now I was just a cog in the wheel doing my cases. And at 61 thing I did realize is that we used, we were doing a 24 hour call, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And I actually, no Saturday and Sunday, it was Saturday and Sunday then. But on that Saturday, I started work at seven o’clock in the morning. And, and a lot of you out there will know this is that Saturdays used to be for emergencies. Now, Saturdays, Sundays, they changed it to urgencies, or we even did elective cases. So I go there thinking, all right, it’s a Saturday.
Dr. Lynette Charity (38:55):
You know, how bad can it be? Well, I started my day at seven in the morning. I finished that rotation at 3:00 AM. Sunday morning, nonstop case after case, after case, after case, I went home. I even got stopped by the police because he thought I was drunk, but there’s something as we know called drowsy driving. And and when he saw that I was still in my scrubs, I was still I had my mask still on. I had my bonnet still on. I was so tired that I didn’t even change my clothes. I went home after he realized that I was not coming from a bar. And I got to sleep for three hours before my phone rang. Dr. Charity. We’ve got some cases for you. I get up, I don’t even take a shower. I’m still in my scrubs.
Dr. Lynette Charity (39:47):
I fell asleep in my strobes. I go back in, I’ve figured out, change my clothes there. I changed in some new screws, and then I’m doing cases again. They’re going, Oh, we got one more. Oh, we got finally at noon. I just said, I’m done. I’m done. I’m done. I can’t do any other cases. We had to, we always have two docs on. I said, you can put them behind that person’s list because I don’t feel safe. And I was informed that that’s not what my contract stated that I had to do the cases until the cases were done. I said, I am not, I’m too tired. I don’t feel safe. And I actually left. So I got called into the principal’s office when I came back and I was told that I was not a team player. And that when I was told to do something that I was supposed to do it, and not only am I being talked to by somebody who was old enough to be my son, it was like, wait a minute.
Dr. Lynette Charity (40:48):
What, what are you saying here that you agree with these people that you would be willing for me to do this? So I called the chief of anesthesia at the time I called him an idiot who knew that was a fireable offense, but my contract was terminated. And it made me think about what I, what this all was about. And people talk about burnout and everything, but I had never really officially, I would say done that, had that problem, because I was always able to reinvent myself at this point. It was like, I am done. And I walked out first. I was embarrassed because I had to do the perp walk. The perp walk was, they take you to your locker with a security guard. Had you open up your locker, you take all your stuff out. They make sure you don’t steal anything.
Dr. Lynette Charity (41:37):
And a bunch of scrubs in there. I wanted to take home, but I couldn’t do that. And then the security guard walks you in front of everybody, walks you out of the building, deactivates your card, your, your badge, and then basically kicks you to the curb. And all I could think of was no more free food and a doctor’s lounge and no more parking spot bummer. But I immediately went over to across the street and said, Hey you guys need an anesthesiologist is surgery center. I happened to be available. They go, Oh, we could use your Dr. Charity. They knew me. And I said, yeah, well, you know, give me a few days to get myself together and I’ll come work for you. On Monday. I went to bed that night and I was, what can I do? What can I do? I really don’t know if I can manage to even do this for another five years.
Dr. Lynette Charity (42:28):
Cause I thought I’d retire at 65. And it came to me that I said, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a standup comic lown singer voiceover actor. And what we do sometimes as physicians is we forget about those kinds of things of, of what may gave us joy when we were young or when, you know, I gave, I played instruments. I played in the, in the concert band. I played, I did, I played piano. I played a lot of things. But once I got into this mindset that I was going to be a doctor, I gave up on all of that. This was now time to figure out if I could still do some of these things. Well, you know, I found out that I was kind of funny. I got a comedy coach. I started writing some jokes. I went to comedy clubs, people laughed.
Dr. Lynette Charity (43:13):
I laughed, Oh my goodness. Laughter great thing. I did some singing, but that was not my forte. You know, even I always thought I was going to be Michelle Pfeiffer, like fabulous Baker boys. I could go on a cruise ship, not anymore and lie on a piano and a red slinky dress and belt out the tunes. Everybody would be drunk anyway. So who cares, but it’d be nice to be on a, on a cruise ship and do that. And my husband could be the doctor on the cruise ship, but I would be the singer. And I did some voiceover did some demos. I did some commercials cause I have a very distinctive voice. But the thing that resonated me was the comedy. And then someone said, you know, you can monetize that even more by becoming a professional speaker. And I said, really? Okay.
Dr. Lynette Charity (44:04):
So I started doing that. I joined, like I said, I joined Toastmasters. I am now a member of the national speakers association, but I said, what would I speak on? What would be my message? And my message was because two years after I left that job, a good friend colleague of mine died by suicide. And when he died by suicide, it brought back some memories that I had of the struggles I had with my depression and the fact that I ended up on a bridge when I was 45, wanting to kill myself. And I had buried that deep inside of me because doctors aren’t supposed to have a mental illness doctors. Aren’t supposed to feel stress. We’re just supposed to suck it up buttercup and just do it. And that’s what I would do. Even when I was in my room. Sometimes can’t get out of bed, just feeling awful.
Dr. Lynette Charity (45:02):
I would find the energy to just get up. I even had a, you know, I started running and I said, it’s amazing how many people you can cuss out in 26.2 miles because I would do my, my marathons. And that’s how, you know, releasing the endorphins and getting myself happy. Running was good for me. I also took up skiing and someone said, I didn’t know, black people skied. And I go, well, this one does. I mean, he put someone even say that was just kind of weird, but I ski you know, of course I was swimming. I did a lot of things to, to help myself to get myself in the mindset that I could move on and not kill myself. But then of course, some things came together. You know, being a wife, being a mother, being a doctor, I had been sued for malpractice.
Dr. Lynette Charity (45:52):
You know, there were just a lot of things that came in there. And then all of a sudden there I was on this bridge. And fortunately for me, I tell everyone, my mother saved my life because I was having suicidal ideations and they were telling me to kill myself. You’re not a good mother. You’re not a good doctor. You should just die. I’m looking down. And all of a sudden, my mother’s voice came in my head and said, call your mama. That’s all it said. And I recognized as my mother’s voice. And it’s amazing as a physician, you know, I know that these are voices and that I shouldn’t be listening to them, but they were very convincing because I was in so much pain and I wanted it to go away. But that knocked me out of my little Fuchs. They, I got down, I called my mother and that’s when I got into therapy and I went on medication doctors.
Dr. Lynette Charity (46:42):
Aren’t supposed to do that. And and I, and I did a Ted talk on this because I tell physicians now, especially in COVID and what’s going, and now we’re not even allowed to get the shot right away. They’re not in the primary tier to get the shot. Why an anesthesiologist and the primary tier to get the shot. But anyway, I just tell people that you have to figure out a way to cope with it. And even if you don’t want to reveal on that little black box, that you’re getting treatment, you need to get treatment. That’s, that’s what I tell people. It saved my life. I am I’m on medication now. And look at me, I’m a happy go, lucky kind of person. Plus my, my comedy and my, my view on life right now is that medicine is our calling. It’s not supposed to kill us and that we have to find other things in our lives that give us joy and treat medicine. Now as what it is, it is a job. We do want to help people, but it’s not necessarily the warm and fuzzy thing that we used to think of it. When I started doctors were Kings and Queens. That’s not the case anymore. So you have to cope with it the best way you can cope with it. That was,
I really appreciate you sharing that Dr. Charity. So I’m sure that in an audience, the size of the number of doctors, listening to this podcast, there’s going to be people who identify with your story. There’s going to be people who are, who have been chewed out and dressed down by the administrator and who have been, who feel undervalued and who feel their self worth is diminished. And they’re maybe they’re suicidal, maybe not, but, but there’s this internal questioning of their value. How would you counsel them? And I know you do some, some coaching for people in this situation. How would you counsel them for people who are starting to just ask the big questions about like, is this even worth it anymore?
Dr. Lynette Charity (48:42):
Well, I obviously I want physicians to stay doing medicine if they can. But the key is that it’s now about your mental health and about your mindset. And I have a book on my website which is called seven strategies to a healthy, happier healer. And it’s based on mindset. M I N D S E T. And the one thing that we get stuck in why we can’t take a leap to even evaluate what we want to do potentially along with medicine is that we can’t move out our own way. I got debt, I’ve got a mortgage I have out. You’re going to always have those kinds of things, but why stay in a toxic environment that could potentially kill you? If you can find something else, even if it’s a side gig, you don’t have to completely go out. And that’s what I counsel them on.
Dr. Lynette Charity (49:43):
As I said, test the waters. We have so many programs out there. I am amazed at how far your MD can go when you’re not, you don’t even have to practice clinical medicine. So the key is that you can stay in the game, but you can be happy doing it. You know? So, you know, you, you, you, you know, move out of your own way, identify you’re overwhelmed. What is it about the job that is causing? Because it’s different for different people? You know, my overwhelm was that I couldn’t, if, if I could make that job a part-time job, which is what a lot of us really need, because we do a full-time and a half now. But if we do a part-time job, you know, then you have a chance to also, we need to be able to look at the demographics. As you said, of, of two income families, lack of two-income families, whatever children, all of that.
Dr. Lynette Charity (50:43):
If you want to be a female, if you want to be a physician and you’re female, and you want to have children that needs to be in the program and something that a lot of people are still leery about is that I am looking at anesthesiologists, forming a union because now as we are basically hospital employees, not private practitioners, but hospital employees, you can form a union and collective bargaining. We are so devalued, we are disrespected, we’re demeaned and it hasn’t stopped. And yet they still call me and say, doc, you know, we’re short staff, you know, can you come in and help? And I go, do you know how old I am? You know, I’m not, I’m not doing that. But the point is that they, they value us enough to want to get us back there, to help them out, but they don’t want to pay you and they don’t want to respect you.
Dr. Lynette Charity (51:45):
And they don’t. I really value who you are. We went to school for 12 years to get where we are or more. And, and we have people saying, Oh, you know, somebody who only has two years of X, Y, Z is just as good as you. And how does that make us feel? So, you know, th the end of that is, is you know, negating the naysayers. Anybody people say to me now, Oh, you’re retired. That means you’re no longer a doctor. Yes, I am. I earned that degree. And I expect people to still call me doctor, you know, just because I don’t practice clinical medicine, my skill sets are still there. And I speak to that. That’s why I’m, that’s why I’m an expert in what I do. You know? And I won’t, I won’t tell you too many more, but the, the, the D is you know define your authenticity by know who you are as a person, because there’s something underneath that white coat that you need to bring out.
Dr. Lynette Charity (52:50):
And once I found my humor, my funny, Oh my goodness. You know, the last few years that I practiced, I became the funny anesthesiologist because I would, I, hi, I’m Dr. Charity, I’m your anesthesiologist. I ate today. I’m going to pass gas upon you. You know? And, and my patients would laugh and I would, I would just, you know, have fun with them. That whole idea of we have to be so straight laced is, is not there anymore. Express who you are. It’s better out than in, and find yourself a group of people of peeps. I said, find your peeps, that you can voice this. We used that the doctor’s lounge was sacrosanct. At one time, you went in there and there were only doctors in there, and you could and moan and complain and say, whatever you want. Now they have cameras in there and people come in there.
Dr. Lynette Charity (53:43):
You don’t know who they are, and they will report you. If you say something, you’ve got a lot of whistleblowers out there. So find your own group where you can just let it all hang out, because if you get it out and vent it and have someone assess it, and maybe say it back to you, that’s a good thing. You can see it from a different perspective than that one. That’s rattling around in your head, eating away at you. So those are four, you know, if you get, if you go to my website, you can click on it and, and get it. But what is most important is that it’s time for a transformation as 2021. Let’s all look at ourselves as anesthesiologists and say, where do we go from here? How can we keep doing what we’re doing and better? And how can we take time for ourselves for our mental health personal health.
Dr. Lynette Charity (54:41):
You know, a lot of us have families. I have a grandson now. And let me tell you, I, because my kids grew up with nannies, as I told you, I’d come home. And, you know, they were walking. I come home and my son was shaving. It’s like, what happened? You know, where, where did that time go? I am now able to see the chronological span of watching my grandson go from baby. I was there for his birth to getting teeth, walking, talking, you know, we don’t need to miss those milestones and our children because we we’re out there taking care of someone else’s child or someone, some other adult there has to be a way for us to, to work this out. So the most important thing is that you need to reassess what you’re going through right now and figure out what drives you. What drives you to continue in a toxic environment if you don’t have to?
Absolutely well, let’s end there. So you mentioned your website a couple of times. I want to call it out for our listeners. Dr. Charity speaks.com. You can connect with Dr. Charity there. If you’re interested in coaching or speaking gigs, or having her come to stand up at your department, whatever your morning zoom meeting. I’m sure she’d love to do that. And talk to you about that, Dr. Charity, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for your time today. And I look forward to hopefully keeping in touch.
Dr. Lynette Charity (56:04):
Thank you so much. And thank you for letting me rant on
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