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What I Wish I Knew Before Residency

I wish I really knew how hard it would be. “It” being these 4 years of my clinical training called residency.

Throughout residency everything has been tried including my patience, sanity, mind and marriage. When we are in medical school we are so concerned with graduating and getting to the next step, not realizing that this next step is unlike anything we have ever experienced. You thought medical school was hard but residency brings a whole new meaning to the word hard. You start to doubt yourself and your abilities. You are pushed to the very extent of your limits and you truly see how much you can or can’t handle.

I actually want to apologize for how I’ve often portrayed residency through my Instagram; I have made it seem easy and dare I say glamorous; and easy and glamorous it is not. In my fear of portraying negativity I fear I have instead portrayed a false representation of what life is really like as a resident, especially in a surgical sub specialty.

Medical school engulfs your brain with a lot of facts and knowledge, but no steps on how to put those thoughts into action. You step foot into a hospital your first day as a resident and all of a sudden nurses call you doctor and ask for orders and you realize you really don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

I love that there are so many of you who send me messages and emails and say that you can’t wait to get to this point. I think it’s great I really do. But I don’t want what you see on Instagram to mainly factor into your preconceived notion of how you think residency will be.

These are a few things I wish would have been shared with me prior to starting:

1. I wish someone would have told me I would question myself. Constantly. And not just in my first year but in the years to follow. I wish someone would have said there will be days you will feel confident and make sound decisions, and then there are days you will feel incompetent and make poor decisions. And real lives are at stake. REAL LIVES. When you read and watch videos for a surgery and you still get questions wrong your attending asks you. When you put in a wrong order or make a bad decision and reap the consequences from that. Where you can literally be years into your training and still question whether you made the right life decision. Trust. We all have been there. We have all gotten to a point where we don’t feel good enough or smart enough. Where our confidence takes enough persistent blows that it literally knocks the motivation and inspiration you entered with into the middle of next week. It’s ok. Really it is! And that feeling will only be temporary.

2. I wish someone would have told me how tired I would be. Especially with a family. Medical school requires you to basically do continued study. Cool. Residency requires you to work your ass off and still come home and guess what? Study. Oh you thought you were going to bed after a full surgery day? Oh no ma’am you will not be going to sleep. You will cook, attempt to workout, think about watching your favorite show but never get to it and just when your eyelids start to shut you realize oh shoot I have to read. And then it’s late and you know you have to be up at 5 am. Before starting I never in my life believed I could pull off a 24 hour shift. For 3 of 4 weekends every single month. When that 3am section gets called it is sheer adrenaline that gets you through the case. And being pregnant in residency? Oh, don’t even get me started. that’s a whole different kind of tired.

3. I wish someone would have told me how important mental health is. And that my mental health would be tried as a pregnant intern in a way I never thought imaginable. I always naively thought depressed people could “just get over it” if they really tried and realized how wrong I was when that was far from true for me. It took everything in me to go back to work after my 7 week (yes just 7 after a C section) maternity leave because I did not want to go back. Even with the support of my husband, my mother and with a healthy beautiful new baby I still felt the lowest I had ever felt in my life. It took a lot of support to get me back to a functioning resident that was literally too sad to work. But I realize now how important mental health is and my goal is to preserve mine no matter the stigma so I can make it through this temporary time. Self care is SO important! Work out, get a drink with friends, cuddle with your dog, play your instrument and just give time to yourself. You deserve it! And we will have nothing left to give to our patients if our energy is wiped clean every day.

4. I wish someone would have told me its ok to cry. And not just once or twice. I have easily shed more tears during residency than my entire life combined…including when I was a wee little infant lol. And I hate crying because it makes me feel weak. I have broken down in front of attendings, residents, my mother, my husband and kid. I’m a doctor and I’m supposed to be strong and balance being a good mother and a good wife and a good resident and make it seem effortless; when in reality it’s really draining to be good at all three. I feel like one or two of the three take a hit at some point. So know there will be lots of tears and that’s ok. As long as after you’re done crying, you mop up those tears and get yourself back together.

I say all this not to be negative but to be honest. Anyone also on this journey can relate. Despite everything said above, residency has been very rewarding. I have literally seen myself grow int the physician I know I was destined to become. I see patients on my own. I can do a hysterectomy laparoscopically, vaginally and hopefully soon robotically. I bring life into the world. There is so much I have learned both about the specialty and about myself. I am VERY thankful to be here but know that being here requires work. Hard work. Consistent work. A LOT of work. It’s trying and some days are so bad I just come home and cry. Most days, however, I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Do not let anyone discourage you from this journey if this is what you really want. But if you decide to embrace this journey, do it with everything you have because it will take everything you have. The work is great. The reward is greater. And if I ever think about quitting, I just remember those $250,000 worth of loans waiting to be paid off and I get my act together real quick!


A tired but still persevering resident

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