Roz on Residency: The Advice Column You've Been Looking For

Rosalyn E. Plotzker, MD, MPH


January 09, 2019

Have there been moments where you question your career decisions and become disinterested in your job because of the amount of workload?

Dear WF,

Thanks for writing in! I have a small hunch that you might feel overworked and a little burned out. But first, to answer your question about my own experience: I changed my mind multiple times before medical school, during medical school, and in residency.

In fact, when I was in college, I promised myself that I would not be a doctor.

My Five 'Mind Changes'

I had family members who were doctors. I loved writing, not medicine. Despite myself, I became interested in child psychiatry, which meant medical school. That was Mind Change #1. Not surprisingly, I completely loathed the enormous science classes and competitive culture. That summer, following a study abroad program, I dropped organic chemistry and took the LSAT instead. My calling, I'd decided—Mind Change #2—was public health law and travel writing.

Then after graduation, I met a woman (I'll call her BB) via HIV prevention research. She used crack cocaine and earned a living through sex work. My job in the research study was to provide BB and the other participants with harm-reduction counseling. I cared about each of them—a lot. I realized I loved working with individuals more than the systems to which they belonged.

On my 23rd birthday I had Mind Change #3, bit the bullet, and chose to finish my pre-med requirements as night classes. On my 24th birthday I took the MCAT. I started medical school when I was 25. (Thanks again, BB.)

During the third year of medical school, I felt burned out and wondered about a career in international health. As a result of Mind Change #4, I opted to take a leave of absence for a year. I was placed as a Luce Scholar in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was the best year of my life (so far). With just one more year of medical school, I knew it would be absurd to not finish. So I came back, matched into an ob/gyn program with hopes of a career in global health, and earned my MD.

By the middle of my intern year I was exhausted and miserable.

It took a long time to distinguish the temporary stress inherent to internship from the true potential for a stressful career path. It required a lot of reflection, soul-searching, planning, and discussions with as many types of role models as I could reach. As a result of Mind Change #5, I switched into a preventive medicine program.

Those are just the times I actually took a turn in my route rather than continue straight on the well-trodden path. I did not mention the frequent deliberations sparked either by a change in what I wanted out of life or the discovery that a theoretical expectation did not line up with the reality where I'd arrived.


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