I came across a picture the other day which in my eyes, summarized the way a lot of people view their time in training. It’s an image that asks you to check a box indicating your relationship status, with the options being single, in a relationship, ‘it’s complicated,’ married, and ‘in medicine.’ While it made me laugh, I also found it telling. So many trainees voice a sentiment that their personal lives are on hold during training, whether it be in regards to relationships, hobbies, or other interests. I don’t think it needs to be that way, and in this era of burnout, actually feel strongly that it shouldn’t be this way.
In medicine, we learn quickly that we will make sacrifices for our careers. Having night, weekend, and holiday responsibilities means that we won’t always make it to weddings, reunions, or other social events. Patient care is unpredictable, and we (and our significant others) know all too well that promising we will get out of work at a certain time is a setup for failure and disappointment. We know that entire months at a time will be dedicated to studying for a particular exam or all-consumed by a demanding rotation.
That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that training occurs during some of the best years of your life, and as we know all too well in medicine, the future is unpredictable. Don’t put everything else on hold for a later point. I would be willing to bet that most people who have crossed the threshold into attending-hood would agree with me when I say there’s no such thing as perfect timing for the other things in your life. If you really want to make a relationship work, make a commitment to that in the same way you make a commitment to passing an exam. They should be viewed as being equally important. If you want to have children, same thing. If you’ve always wanted to explore a certain interest, experience a particular bucket list item, fulfill a certain goal, or learn about something outside of medicine - again - same thing.
Forgetting who you are or what you want will only lead to dissatisfaction in the long run. Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations that allow you to do the things that mean something to you - the worst anybody can do is say no (and sometimes they will). But sometimes, they will surprise you, and maybe even support you. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Coming up with unconventional solutions such as extending residency by a few months so you can take some extra maternity leave, taking a year out at some point in training to pursue a passion project, travel, or gain some perspective on the pathway you are on - these are all good things. And, perhaps surprisingly, they will make you a better physician. Life in medicine is evolving, and the personality traits necessary to have a fulfilling career are changing with it. We need this next generation of physicians to be brave, well-rounded, and creative.
As the saying goes, life’s a journey, not a destination. I wish you well during your journey, and encourage you to carve out the life in medicine that you desire. Don’t let anyone tell you how your path should course. You are first and foremost an individual, and staying true to that will help you to be the best version of your physician self.
Nisha Mehta, M.D.
Dr. Nisha Mehta is a physician and writer with interests in physician wellness, medical education, and health policy. Follow her on Twitter @nishamehtamd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nishamehtamd.