Ready or Not: On Finding Balance
By the time I finally completed my post-secondary education years, I had developed an intense dislike for hierarchical institutions, long hours and professional exams. Now, this wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t just graduated with a medical degree.
Established conservative hierarchy? Check.
Long hours? Check.
Multiple exams forthcoming? Check.
So what I did was burn all my textbooks, grab my passport and head straight off on a backpacking tour of southeast Asia, all the while blogging about how life is beautiful now that I’m free as a bird.
What I actually did was look longingly at my friends’ Instagram vacation photos before heaving a sigh and cracking open my dog-eared copy of Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine in preparation for my first rotation of PGY1. When you’re staring at $250K in student debt, taking a year off isn’t exactly relaxing – nor is it financially feasible.
Medicine is one of those fields where the longer you are away from medical school, the harder it is to get back in the field. I’ve read too many horror stories of students with even more debt that still haven’t managed to secure a residency spot (in North America) after years of trying. Meanwhile, the odds of ever getting to practice as a doctor drop exponentially with each passing year.
So here I am, a newly trained doctor who’s already reconsidering her life choices.
Don’t get me wrong, medicine wasn’t a field that I was pressured into. Before medical school, I’d shadowed doctors, spoken to current medical students and volunteered at the hospital.
I thought I knew what I was going into.
From the moment we enter undergrad as a pre-med, we’ve been told that things will eventually get better. When slogging through physics and calculus prereqs, we were told that medical school will be better – the courses you learn there will actually be useful! Then when we hit med school and we’re trying to memorize the Krebs cycle and what seems like every single microbe known to mankind, we’re told that it gets better once you begin your clinical rotations at the hospital. Once we’ve arrived at the hospital as third years and we start juggling 10 - 15 hours days on the wards with lectures, studying for exams, presentations, research and job applications, we’re told that it gets better once you start working… once you finish residency… once you open your own practice… once you get said practice up and running…
Unsurprisingly, ever since graduation, I’ve been having trouble envisioning myself doing this for the next thirty or forty years. As familiar as I am with delayed gratification, this is starting to seem like there’s no end in sight.
I did, however, have about three months off between finishing my degree and starting work. In between all the (additional) studying I did for my upcoming rotations, I carved out some time for some serious introspection.
I knew I couldn’t continue like this. If there’s one thing I’m afraid of, it’s turning into a jaded doctor that only goes into work for a paycheck and treats each patient like another five minute appointment - ready or not, next person! - that point when you stop caring about the person sitting in front of you.
For the past decade, I’d made medicine my only focus. Now it was time to rediscover all the other bits of me that got waylaid in the process. There’s the part that used to enjoy playing piano. There’s the part of me that used to write Harry Potter fanfiction over a weekend. Then there’s the part of me that realized that it’s been ages since I’ve conversed with my non-med friends or even spent the full Christmas holidays with my parents.
I guess what I’m saying is this: there needs to be a balance, not necessarily a work-life balance but giving your other interests their time in the spotlight. Too often we hear people defined solely by their profession or what they do for a living. It’s easy to lose yourself in chasing a career path, but in the process we risk forgetting so many beautiful aspects of ourselves when we allow a job to become our only focus. It’s time to resurrect those other distinctive parts that we’ve allowed to decay in our sometimes-dehumanizing pursuit of careers. Ready or not, that time is today.
[Photo by Julie Bloom.]