I was recently asked to describe my (ten) years in medical school/training, and found that there was no way to put it concisely. Did it seem like eternity? In some ways, yes. In other ways, that whole decade is a big blur. In many ways, it felt like the movie Groundhog Day. Wake up, go to the hospital, study, sleep, repeat. And yet, somehow, in there, life happened. I made friends, I got married, I lived in three cities, and even had my first child.
I think that for most, there are certain periods of time in training that we remember very vividly, while others are just lumped under the general theme of survival. However, there are certain sentiments that weaved throughout the entire experience. While some of these were positive, the negative ones nagged at me throughout the decade. For me, these included:
- I can’t wait to stop taking exams and having to prove myself to everyone every day.
- I want to be in charge of my life. I want to decide how much sleep I get, when I get time off, and what I do in my time outside the hospital.
- When will the time come where I can take a taxi or even the subway without worrying if I should save the money by walking?
- Is it my golden weekend yet? Is my husband (also a trainee) going to be able to get the same weekend off? Will it align with my college roommate’s wedding or whatever other important events are going on in the lives of my friends and family?
- Why am I constantly under a microscope? I can’t even decide what to wear or give my opinion about my favorite sports team without worrying about if it will affect my evaluations.
- Where will the match place us for residency or fellowship? What does that mean for our finances and how much family support we’ll have if we decide to have children? Are we even going to end up in the same city?
- Is it okay that I’m putting my family through this?
The list goes on and on, but fundamentally, every major decision in my life outside of medicine was directly linked to my unpredictable, demanding life in medicine, and that was mentally exhausting. In conjunction with the physical exhaustion, there were times where it felt overwhelming.
We are all told that it gets better, and hold on to that promise in order to get through the process. In this era of physician burnout, a lot of trainees seem to indicate that they aren’t sure it will actually get better. I’m asked regularly if it’s all worth it, or whether it’s better to just cut losses and find something else to do.
I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case, it got better. Much better. The majority of those questions are in the past. I love what I do, I am lucky to be in a field where I feel fairly compensated for my investment, and most importantly, I feel like I have control over my life. I picked the job that fit the life I wanted, and can prioritize my life goals my way. For the most part, I have control in decision making for my patients, instead of simply having to follow someone else’s instructions. While I still have to make sacrifices for life in medicine, the current sacrifices no longer seem so much more outlandish than those my friends from college make for their jobs outside of medicine. Training was without question the hardest part of my career.
Was it easy to get here? Absolutely not. Is it perfect? No. But for me, there was definitely a (very bright) light at the end of the tunnel, and hope it’ll be the same for you too.
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.