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The Power of Indecision

Elizabeth Gabel, MD

Let me start this blog with a confession: I can be a very indecisive person. It drives my husband crazy at times. I currently have one of those inspirational posters in my office at UICOMP. You probably know the type. There is always a beautiful photo and then a statement that says something like “Success is a journey, not a destination” or “Be the reason someone smiles.” My poster has a picturesque image of a lake at sunset. The colors are hues of orange and yellow which highlights the silhouette of someone fishing quietly. The photo is bordered by thick, black matte and in white text it reads sarcastically “WISDOM: Don’t just talk about it, think about it for ages first.” And I think this captures my essence well.

As I thought about this blog and what topic I should write about, I’ve started and stopped many times. Topics have ranged from mindfulness to being married in medicine to a day in the life of my dogs. Although the last one would have been entertaining, it didn’t seem to fit this time of year. It is graduation time at UICOMP, and the class of 2023 is crossing the stage and moving into the world of residency. It is a time of celebration on how far they have come and a time of nervous energy for what comes next. As faculty, it is a pleasure to bear witness to their progress in four short years. For me, it is always a time of reflection on my own change and progress as well.

When I was a medical student, I used to think that all my faculty had their careers figured out. I thought every decision that brought them to that point in their career was planned and intentional. I laugh at that now and realize that mostly my indecisions are what have brought me to where I am and very few things have been intentional. I chose family medicine, in part, because of my indecision and inability to “give up” anything in medicine. I couldn’t see myself doing any “one thing” and instead needed the option to do a little bit of everything. During third year clerkships, this had caused me great moral dilemma until I rotated through family medicine during my final rotation. Finally, there was a specialty where I didn’t have to decide on what I wanted to do! It was perfect!

I also came into teaching medical students after indecision following residency. My husband was completing his residency in Buffalo and I was looking for a position in the city. I had applied and interviewed for a private practice job and was waiting on the contract to be sent to me. I wasn’t sure if it was the right “fit,” and my husband could sense this indecision brewing. He happened to mention my job search to his program coordinator one day. She was a friend to a friend to a provider in an office that was about to start looking for a physician. That, in of itself, is a separate commentary on how small the medical world is. I was put in touch with the chair at UBMD Family Medicine who was looking for a full-time clinical provider to join one of their offices. I signed the contract shortly after interviewing.

The other doctors who saw patients at this office part time included the FM clerkship director, assistant FM clerkship director, prior FM residency program director, and a dean at the school of medicine. A physician assistant and I were the only two that were seeing patients full time. There was always a clerkship student or two rotating through the office. Initially, they rotated only with the other providers, but eventually they would work with me when I had someone interesting. The more that I worked with students, the more that I wanted to work with students. And as those in academic medicine know, the more you say “yes” or even just “maybe”, the more you get inundated with possibilities.

Fast forward a few years and now one of my favorite parts of my job is advising medical students. I do career advising for family medicine as well as a clinical faculty advisor for first- and second-year students. One of the common reasons that students seek advice is because they are having trouble deciding on something and don’t know how to proceed. I enjoy these conversations, not because I make or recommend any decisions for them, but because I can reflect back to them, provide information, and hopefully make the indecision a little more comfortable to be in. Sometimes I think that it is helpful for them to hear that not even I know what I want to do when I “grow up.” And eventually, they make a decision and we see where that decision takes them.

So, to our class of 2023, remember that none of us have it figured out and all we can do is try to make the next decision that is in front of us. We may have to sit in our indecision, think about it for ages, or talk it through with someone we trust. But you may discover something that you would have never expected of your career or gain some wisdom from the experience. I hope your indecision (and then eventual decisions) lead you to beautiful places, both in life and in your career. I wish you all the best of luck!

About the Author Heading link

Dr. Elizabeth Gabel is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Family Medicine. She can be reached at