A Decade Under the Influence: The Sacrifice of Becoming a Doctor

Recently I had a hard conversation with a close friend of mine that’s less than 6 months from completing her residency training abroad. She’s angry, slightly apathetic and increasingly isolated in her path to become a doctor, losing out on the relationships and connections of humanity that she prized so highly before. She’s in a different city than her family (although really only a few hours), doesn’t see her friends as much as she used to, works tough hours (multiple +24hr shifts per month), and she doesn’t go out as much as before – on a day off, she stays in sometimes more than she used to and has lost some passion towards her doctoral thesis and simultaneously had growing resentment towards even going into Medicine in the first place. She’s frustrated and questions if any of her choices to go this direction with her career were worth it if the rest of her life and social sphere is given up as the collateral… And, you know what, I feel and have felt the same way, more days than not. Each of us drifting towards the path to become a doctor gives up something in some way or another – some are lucky to glide by unscathed and have everything they ever want all line up in a surreptitious manner; but, for others, we sacrifice a lot more than people realize.

And yes of course, I have seen people die. I have held emotional turmoil and the burdening guilt of decisions I have made and haven’t made. I have felt a level of exhaustion that is deep to my soul and can’t always be comprehended by those that have taken different paths, despite my attempts at explanation. But, that’s not even the part I’m talking about. All of those things I’m ok with, all of those things are part of the job description and aren’t really as difficult to preemptively warn medical trainees about. The loss and sacrifice that comes with a decade long path in medicine extends much further than the actual subject matter.

The Un/chosen Path

There’s some control in where one goes to Medical School, depending on testing, competition and shear luck, perhaps it’s one factor that has some sort of control. For myself, it wasn’t quite as simple. I scored decently on my med school admission test (MCAT), was in the top 10% of my class at a prestigious university and had a fairly proud resume, but I ended up finding myself wait-listed at the local Medical School close to my home in California and accepted otherwise only to a program in New Orleans, LA. As chance would have it, California’s waitlist closed and I found myself in 2013 suddenly moving across the country. I absolutely loved it but it brought me to the South for 4 years.

After Medical School when it came to applying to Pediatric Residency Programs, I followed the path of what program fit me but did include California schools on my ‘Match List’; but, then as fate would have it again I landed in Houston, TX for 3 more years of training.

So, regardless of what I had wanted to do, to some degree of course, and the fact that part of me became more driven by the adventure and the journey… I found myself cast away from everything I knew and had grown up with for seven years. Just, to be a doctor.

Family. Friends. Time. Hobbies.

After I finished Residency, I secretly hoped I would find my way back to my ex-girlfriend in Southern California, and that I would find that quintessential happily ever after. Granted, career again confused me and cast me out into the wilderness working as a Professional Locum Tenens. To be honest, after spending 30 years in school, once I got to my “end point”….. I found myself more Lost than ever.

In the meantime over the last 10 years I’ve watched parts of my life slowly fall apart and have come to notice the fragments only as I have finally taken a second to pause and look outside of the hourglass of medical training. My cousins have grown up and gone to college, relatives are getting older and dying and I am geographically separated from my siblings and my mother amongst less and less free time obscured by work, loss of purpose and pursuit of financial freedoms ($300,000 in loans is a little bit much, in my opinion).

My friends have gotten married, bought houses, planted literal roots and started families. They have learned to balance work with the other things that make life worth living and are becoming more and more comfortable and cementing stable foundations for the rest of their lives. We talk on the phone sometimes, have done some video messaging from time to time, but overall physical distance now sometimes makes a rift. Time passes by. I feel like i just turned 21 and have barely been let loose on the world.

I used to do a lot of things for fun. I have taken up more cooking as a necessity and it’s still something I really enjoy; but, I used to do yoga and study foreign languages. I used to dance and play music. When I entered medical school and found myself studying +60-80 hours a week and then started residency working even more, I lost some of those things.

I love what I do, being a Pediatrician is a lot of fun; but, I find myself lost at 32 years old just floating out in the world. I went into a time capsule for 10 years and mental-socially aged less than my peers but physically have gotten just more tired on the outside. It’s taking me a lot of work to recalibrate priorities and it’s hard after a decade under the influence… But hopefully the sacrifices even themselves out. Nonetheless, I wish people actually understood how much is lost and given up, just to be a Doctor.

Image Credit (and also a great blog post on the same topic from another perspective):

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