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

Rosalyn E. Plotzker, MD, MPH


January 09, 2019

Weigh Your Workload

Did I ever become disinterested because of the amount of work? Of course. Imagine falling into the ocean and then treading water constantly to keep from drowning no matter your fatigue. Who could enjoy swimming under those circumstances? Pre-med classes, medical school, and residency each felt like that at times.

The heavy workload is a major contributor to burnout. Apathy toward one's work is a burnout red flag. Is it prompting you to reconsider your career path? If that's the case, that is...maybe wonderful.

I think it's worth exploring how temporary or permanent this heavy workload is, if that is truly your main concern. That would be the practical first step. I chose to wait until my second year of residency before deciding to switch specialties, to be absolutely sure that being overwhelmed wasn't simply the product of intern year. Perhaps the workload you have now will seem like nothing once you're more experienced. Take the long view.

For me, periodic rigorous introspection was crucial in finding the career I have today, which I affectionately call my dream job. The introspection was always triggered when something wasn't quite right. I was unhappy, not performing well, or simply didn't care about work as much as I cared about not working.

Introspection is rarely pleasant. Looking inward required me to feel everything from anxiety to disappointment, from shame to regret. To complicate matters, when those feelings arose, self-comfort was almost impossible given how emotionally depleted I felt from work/school, which was the impetus for reflection in the first place.

Mentors really helped in these moments. Professional ones, personal ones, and a few who I didn't really know but whom I connected to through a mutual colleague. Each had a bit of perspective, the summative effect of which was invaluable.

Honing a dream job is a lifework. I want you to appreciate your agency to move toward the work you want to do. And it is okay if your dream job changes.

Most important, I want you to love what you do. You worked very hard to be a physician. Physicians have a huge responsibility. But rather than drive you to the point of collapse, I am a firm believer that the responsibility—however it takes shape—should be a happy one, a labor of love, and something that brings you a sense of gratification and purpose.

That is worth working hard for.

All my best.


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