'Fear Not, This Is Normal': Advice for Young Doctors

Ryan Syrek, MA


April 14, 2017

Practical Magic

Although a good portion of the suggestions for young doctors had to do with mental attitudes and personal perceptions, some of the advice was far more practical. As Dr Frances Pang recommended, "Live close to work. Don't waste time commuting or risk falling asleep behind the wheel. Exercise regularly. If this is not your thing, it must become your thing."

In fact, the need to cut down on the commute was easily the most frequently mentioned bit of help offered, followed closely by the need for physical exercise. Many pointed out that these are seemingly obvious, but increasingly disregarded, facets that have the biggest impact on having healthy, successful experiences in residency and beyond.

Speaking of happiness, relationships were also another oft-commented on subject. Some were cautiously optimistic, like Dr Annette Hulse, who offered, "If you are married or in a long-term committed relationship, take every single opportunity to connect with your partner. Even if you don't feel like it at the time."

Some contributions were more on the blunt side. As Dr James Hernandez stated explicitly, "Do not get married or divorced during your academic career. This includes the residency years."

'Embrace the Suck' -- or Don't

Much of the advice encouraged readers to accept the unknowable and uncertain aspects of the profession whenever possible. Dr Janet Marley-Rose offered, "How do we know whether tomorrow's change is good for our patients and us? We don't." As she concluded, "What my residency programme taught me was to learn every day, teach every day, do good every day, and enjoy the ride every day."

Dr Alexander Garza had a list of things he wished he had known as a younger doctor:

I wish I had known more about socioeconomic impact on healthcare, so that I would have focused more on the issues outside of medicine that affect health (even more so than medicine, really). I wish I had known more about wellness and taking care of yourself. Working 36 hours at a time is not healthy, nor is eating hospital cafeteria food. Lastly, as we say in the military while deployed, 'embrace the suck.' In other words, it is going to be hard, so just embrace it.

Some users were a bit more "tough love" in their advice. Dr Charles Barrett put it bluntly, stating, "'Work/life balance' is a term that is being tossed around lately. Get over it. Medicine is a lifelong commitment, which has tremendous rewards and sacrifices. To excel at this trade, one must give their all and nothing less."

In contrast, many people advised directly confronting stressors that may arise and not simply "getting over it." Specifically, if a specialty seems like a poor fit to a young doctor, listening to those concerns may be key. As Dr Steven Lampert mentioned, "If you discover that you made the wrong choice in specialty, don't be afraid to make a change. It is not always easy, and it's not convenient to change specialty, but it's important to acknowledge the error and move on."


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