It was during my 8-week residency at Penn Therapy and Fitness on Market Street in West Philadelphia that I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. I had just one more rotation to go and then I would graduate from Thomas Jefferson University with a Master of Science degree in Physical Therapy. Riding the Market Street line home to my dinky apartment in Center City after another frustrating day of massive amounts of paperwork and constant lecturing by my supervisor, I was forced to confront the reality of my situation: I hated what I was doing and I hadn’t even started a real job in my field yet.
Despite my growing trepidation, I did finish out my residencies and graduated, never talking to anyone about my growing concerns about my chosen career path. For the next year, I worked numerous odd jobs while mailing out over 80 resumes (yes, you used to have to mail out resumes in the pre-Internet days) for any and every position a freshly graduated physical therapist could apply for in the Philadelphia region, all for naught. On the bright side, the temp agency I was working for at the time sent me all over Philly, so it was a great opportunity to explore a city that I quickly grew to love.
(Extended note from Scott: Am I the only one who finds it impossible that Derek was actually a physical therapist for like, a split second.
“Um, excuse me, am I doing this right?”
“Um, yeah, uh sure. Sorry, I was looking at another 76ers blog. You look fine to me.”
I think we all agree he made the right career choice.)
In the fall of 2000, I was assigned a temp job in the continuing medical education office at Thomas Jefferson University (TJU). I was back at my alma mater. My one-week assignment turned into two weeks, then 1 month, then 3 months. By this point, I was completely disheartened with the idea of searching for a job that I was no longer sure I even wanted. I had also reached the point that for numerous reasons, most of them financial, I had to find more permanent employment. A full-time position opened up in the CME office, and I took it.
I can still remember the job title: Secretary B. My main tasks were tons of data entry and assisting with the logistics and setup for live meetings. Our office was two floors directly below the room where I had just had gross anatomy lab 18 months before. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to have the work. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a humbling experience to come back to TJU in that capacity, rather than in the position for which they had trained me. My doubts about being a physical therapist were replaced by even sharper doubts about the decision I had made to leave it behind to be, well, Secretary B. I spent many hours that first year banging away at a beige keyboard, entering registration info and evaluation results, Radiohead’s Kid A blasting out of my headphones to drown out that inner voice asking me “What have you done?”
Fast-forward 17 years to the summer of 2018…and things at that time have worked out pretty well. My career in CME has had some ups and downs, but has steadily progressed. My parents no longer regularly ask me if I’m considering going back to work in physical therapy. I have a job that I like and help produce a pretty cool online conference called CMEpalooza that other people seem to enjoy. I can’t complain.
A friend from across the street texts me – “Radiohead is coming to Philly. Let’s go!” I’m in, I text him. Then he sends me the ticket prices and I am aghast. There is no way, NO WAY, I am paying that much to go to a concert. I’m out, I text him back.
But I keep thinking about it and thinking about it. I really want to go. I double-check my bank account and then I talk to my wife. You should go, she tells me. I’m back in, I text my friend back.
And so I go to the Radiohead concert, paying way too much for my ticket, and have an amazing time. Towards the end of the concert, the opening beats from “Idioteque” – my favorite song from the Kid A album – start up and I realize to my embarrassment that I have tears streaming down my face. I know this sounds rather mawkish and trite, but all I can think about is how lost and overwhelmed I felt while listening to that song over and over again as Secretary B and how far I have come since then. The moment got to me.
I think about that moment often whenever we start preparing for the next CMEpalooza. I might still be Secretary B at TJU if it wasn’t for access to professional development resources that helped me advance my career (and I would be remiss not to also mention the value of a strong mentor, who in my case was the wonderful Jeanne Cole, recently retired Director of CME at TJU.) My hope is that CMEpalooza can in some small way be a help to those just starting their careers. We have a ton of resources in our archive, but if there is something you think we are missing that would of value to you, please feel free to reach out and let me know.
Tomorrow night, I am going to hear a Radiohead tribute band that is playing Kid A in its entirety. I don’t think I’ll get teary-eyed this time, but it should be an excellent reminder to me of why we continue on with CMEpalooza. Here’s to keeping everything in its right place.