'The Career I Would've Had If I Hadn't Become a Doctor'

October 18, 2010

Internist Beverly J. Lessane, MD, is a busy doc by day, aspiring country music diva by night.

It is the end of a very busy day as a primary-care physician. I drift off to sleep into my fantasy world where I am a famous country music singer. In this recurring dream I board my tour bus, swab off my makeup, and climb into my overhead bed as my tour bus speeds off to my next destination. The excitement from the show has adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I chat away with some of my backup singers and a couple of band members about the energy of the crowd and their emotionally-charged reception to my latest hit, "Silent Tears," a song written for impaired health professionals who feel stigmatized for seeking necessary help.

I am shaken awake by the annoying buzz of the alarm clock, which noisily reminds me that even at 5:30 a.m. I am already behind schedule for the day. If I am going to finish helping my youngest daughter with her homework, make certain that everyone gets breakfast and to school on time, and complete chart dictation before my first patient of the morning, I'd better get moving. Fast! En route to the office, I pop in my home-recorded CD entitled "A Woman's Heart," keeping my eyes peeled for the men in blue trying to catch people like me who feel they are too busy to obey the speed limit laws. My cell phone is already ringing. Of course, it's my receptionist asking if she can overbook a couple of patients who are in dire need of being seen today.

In the aftermath of another busy day, my feet hurt from the shuffling between my medical office and the emergency room, I have indigestion from the spicy three-cheese lasagna the pharmaceutical representative served at our staff luncheon, and I am exhausted. I return a call to a patient who is insanely worried about some test results and demanding explanation beyond the expertise of my clinical staff. On the way to the Boys and Girls Club to pick up my children, I pop in "A Woman's Heart," and sing the lyrics of "A Woman Don't Want But So Much," the song that I expect to be my next hit. It's dedicated to the significant others of busy physicians who desire a little more balance in family-work life.

After homework, dinner, paperwork, Pilates, and the news, I drift off to sleep again into a land of "Lights, Cameras, Action!" where I resume my role as a glamorous country music diva - big hair, rhinestone halter top with matching skirt, leather boots, and all. I am about to deliver a high energy, sultry performance of "Sunday Morning Loving."

My dream of being a singer/songwriter started many years ago when I was just a shy girl growing up on a farm in Lumberton, N.C. My first memory is of the music of Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, and the rest of the country music stars who were featured on our only clear radio station in Lumberton, WOGR, back in 1967 when I was just 4 years old. Even at that age, I received nickels for my performances of "B-A-B-Y Baby" and "Harper Valley PTA" at family events.

During middle school in Miami, I wrote songs for neighborhood plays. My interest in country music suggested that I needed a stage name. Desiring to one day become the "queen of country music," I chose the stage name "Shebah." I demanded that anyone who had any degree of respect for me also honor my name, Shebah! In high school, I formed a small band which I used to help me live a vicarious life as Dolly Parton, minus the trademark boobs. I knew that songwriting and performing would be my career of choice.

However, as the time approached for me to choose a career and an institution of higher learning, I began to doubt country music as a responsible career choice for me. I thought of the possibility that I could end up hungry and homeless seeking fame in such a competitive and capricious field. I grew timid and began looking at other interests and talents that I felt would be a little bit more practical.

As valedictorian of my high school class, I had to submit information about my dreams and aspirations to the local newspaper. It was easy for me to tell others about the importance of being true to oneself, living one's dreams and visions, making a difference in the world, and leaving a legacy. It was easy to choose to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a wonderful liberal arts college with national and international recognition for both science and fine arts. It was easy to express gratitude for my J.M. Johnston Scholarship that would fully cover my college expenses for my discipline of choice. My dilemma, however, was introduced when I forced myself to decide between a career in health sciences (a very practical, interesting, and promising choice) versus a fine arts curriculum (which left a blur when I attempted to envision my future). After much soul-searching I felt assured that a career in medicine was the right choice for me.

I am now 22 years and about 40,000 patient visits past the time since I graduated from medical school and headed off to residency. My experience with my patients, hospital personnel, colleagues, and the community at large lets me know that I am the person that I desired to be when I decided on medicine as my dream career. I am quite satisfied with the road that has led me into the private lives, intimate moments, and the hearts and trust of so many dear people during their trials of sickness, as well as their pursuits of wellness and vitality. I wouldn't trade this journey for anything in the world.

However, as a baby boomer, I don't take any desires and talents for granted. I've decided to indulge in my fantasies by using my vacation time this year to make my debut at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn. on open mike night for amateurs. My outfit is ready, my make-up is exaggerated, and my hair is really big. My local band, made up mostly of family members and friends forced to participate, have tuned up their instruments.

The vote from the band and other fans is unanimous that I should perform my sure-to-be top hit, "I Think I Know the Reason Why You're Late," which offers solutions to some of the challenges faced by busy health professionals in maintaining healthy relationships. I can already imagine boarding our leased tour bus, with a large magnet on the side that reads "Shebah" written amongst flames, meaning I am "hot!" And whether the crowd in Nashville agrees or not, I have the backing of enough family and friends that have preserved their vocal cords, if not their dignity, all planning to scream my accolades and shout, "Move over Reba; Here comes Shebah!"

Beverly J. Lessane, MD, is an internal medicine specialist in private practice in Kannapolis, N.C. Her focus on preventative medicine and family life-work balance has made her a popular speaker at holistic health conferences nationwide. Dr. Lessane can be contacted at drlessane@yahoo.com for information about her workshops and music.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Physicians Practice.