Make Learning a Lifelong Vocation

Graham Walker, MD


June 23, 2010


What should I do after the match?

Response from Graham Walker, MD
Resident, Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY

After the match is over, it's easy to develop "senioritis." People may tell you, "It's your last chance at freedom! Go have some fun!"

I'm here to tell you: Yes, that's okay. Sure, doctors are lifelong learners, but we also deserve a break once in awhile.

If that learner side is still in the back of your mind (like it is with me), combine a couple of activities.

For example, travel and learn a language at a foreign-language school. Speaking a little Spanish or another language native to your patient population will be much more clinically useful than knowing furosemide's mechanism of action. I did this, and I loved every minute. To strengthen my Spanish-language skills, I signed up with a medical Spanish school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. In the mornings, we had one-on-one tutoring in Spanish; in the afternoons, we did primary care work with local residents. It was the perfect opportunity to improve my Spanish and immediately apply it with patients. On the weekends, I would jump on a bus and hike volcanoes, go to Central America's biggest water park, or hit up the local markets.

What if traveling is not your thing? Do something that you love and that you'll be able to continue to do while you're a resident. Find an activity that will keep you positive, engaged, and interested during the tough years of residency. You have limited free time as a resident, but if you can find something that will be a quick escape and will help you de-stress after a difficult day, it's worth it. Try taking up the guitar, a sport, or whatever it is that you didn't get to enjoy because of all those years of studying in college and medical school.

Of course, there's always an exception to the rule. If you have an opportunity to do a rotation that you think will benefit you for the rest of your career -- and you won't have the opportunity again -- go for it. For example, say you are in an internal medicine program but want to work in an urgent care setting. Working in a setting where you have time to learn suturing techniques and wound care wouldn't be a bad idea. But consider that you might also be able to do this during some elective time in your residency and also that your interests may change during residency.

If you've made it this far in medical school, clearly you know a little something about when to study and when to relax. (And if you don't, hurry up and learn!) So enjoy your final months before residency. Grow as a person. You'll be a better doctor for it and you'll be better able to handle the challenges ahead.


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