Is Your 'Social Clock' Ticking Like Mine?

Alex Millman, MD

Disclosures

July 07, 2011

Question

Sometimes I feel like I'm missing out on my 20s: Everyone else seems to be living their lives and I'm still in school. Does this frustrate anyone else?

Response from Alex Millman, MD
Resident Physician, University of California, San Francisco

It is no secret that medical training is a long and time-consuming process frequently referred to as an exercise in delayed gratification. Indeed, completing college, 4 years of medical school, and at least 3 years of specialty training (in addition to any time off before starting medical school) takes a decade or longer.

Thinking about the time commitment can be overwhelming. The feelings can become especially acute when you see your nonmedical friends finding "real jobs," getting married, buying homes, or otherwise enjoying their lives.

The anxiety you might feel about figuring out your life can be particularly challenging if you're in your 20s and 30s -- the prime years of medical training for most of us.

I speak from experience: I am a medical resident in my late 20s and have yet to get married or buy a home. I have many friends outside of medicine who seem considerably farther ahead in their lives than I am. I admit that I have questioned my career decisions at times.

It's normal to have these feelings. Remember that you chose to become a physician, and the training process will be challenging and time-consuming. Regardless of what you do, medical school and residency is predefined and cannot be shortened.

Viewing these years as lost time before a "real job" is a mistake, however. You are taking important -- albeit occasionally grueling and certainly not financially rewarding -- steps in developing your career and learning the skills you need to excel as an independent clinician. Although training requires many sacrifices, it allows you to figure out your preferred path within the medical profession.

That said, there is no shame in taking the time to enjoy your life, and sometimes doing so is necessary. Make the sacrifices when they are required, but try to take some time for your friends, family, and yourself. Close your textbooks early or skip the latest journal articles if you need a break.

Medicine is just one part of your life, and it should not come at the expense of your personal well-being. You'll confront the same and additional new pressures when you become a physician: Finding ways to make time for yourself and others will help you succeed as a well-rounded and balanced professional.

Finally, I think it can be easy to develop a "grass is always greener" mentality when you see others having fun. Although your friends may never experience the distinct pleasure of being paged awake at 3 AM to clarify a sawdust allergy, they have their own career and life hurdles that can be equally daunting even if they do not appear to be on the surface.

Most important, remember that your medical training in the grand scheme of things is just a small part in the journey to an amazingly satisfying and rewarding career that you will ultimately have the ability to shape.

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