Words of Wisdom for the Next Generation of Doctors

Shirlene Obuobi, MD

Disclosures

October 13, 2021

In the rare lulls between admissions and urgent pages, my co-residents and I used to play a game: "If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, would you encourage them to go into medicine?" Typically, about half of us would respond with a resounding "no," a third with some variation of "maybe," and the last few a "yes, of course!" 

I vacillated between the last two groups for the majority of my time in residency, but there were times when doubt prevailed. After all, pursuing a career in medicine is financially, mentally, and physically costly. Medical school is more competitive than ever, and residency, which demands that we work the equivalent of two full-time jobs at a rate not far from minimum wage, is exhausting. 

With many of our peers in professional tracks outside of medicine already putting money toward retirement and making a comfortable income with significantly less debt burden, it can be easy to wonder what if? 2021 in particular was a hard year to be a trainee as the narrative about healthcare workers shifted from portraying us as heroes to untrustworthy and full of ill intent. 

In the face of rising censuses and increased morbidity, I often wonder whether I made the right choice. 

But then I center myself. I'm lucky to have a job in which the impact I have is tangible. I make connections with people every day. The patients I care for trust me with more than their bodies; they trust me with their secrets, their fears, their hopes. I'll never have to worry if what I do matters because I know that it matters to many. 

And so, when hopeful premeds slide into my DMs to seek advice on how to make it into medicine, I start with this: Make sure you know what you're signing up for. You might not have weekends for years. Every stage of the process gets more challenging and you'll constantly be asked to do more than you think you can handle. You'll miss weddings, funerals, family reunions. You'll work inhumane hours that make it difficult to take care of yourself, let alone the people you love. You will learn in medical school that the human body needs eight hours of sleep, and then spend several years surviving on four. 

But you'll gain expertise in a field of your choice. Your doctorate will give you authority, such that when you speak, others will listen (for the most part). And you have a chance at feeling fulfilled at work, something that many outside of the field would consider a luxury. No matter how difficult the road to becoming a physician may get, know that if it's truly what you want, it's worth it.

Shirlene is a cardiology fellow based in Chicago, an author, and a devoted cat mom.

To see more of Shirlene's work, follow her @shirlywhirlmd on Twitter and Instagram.

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