One thing at a time.
I know that sounds like bogus advice, but let me explain. Medical school seemed unimaginable—no, correction—getting through it sometimes did. In medicine, we tirelessly go on despite the circumstances, but I promise it can be more enjoyable and less of a prison.
The process of becoming a physician is one of rigorous academics and clinical hours. Somewhere along the line, however, it also becomes about how sacrifice, time management, relationships, and working through seemingly impossible situations, transforms you. It becomes a journey of finding your voice and authority in your place as a provider, one that is not always easy to do. This builds your confidence, which affects your relationships with not only your patients but also your peers, team, and preceptors. You learn to figure out who you are in the system of health care as well as what type of physician you are with your unique personality, interests, background, and experiences. This all happens subconsciously and outside of a structured class or rotation.
"Don’t let them quiet your compassion for fear of appearing less strong or dedicated."
Learning the culture of medicine was also a separate journey. Unfortunately, there is often an underlying expectation that you will give up everything to pursue medicine. Knowing you can feel but not too much—because needing comfort but being afraid to reach out, or being on the verge of tears, is often seen as weak. This is the conditioning of our culture. This is often directed at females, but it does not mean that women are not innately strong and dedicated—it just means there needs to be a balance between being compassionate and being authoritative, and leadership shouldn’t only be seen as the latter. Don’t let them quiet your compassion for fear of appearing less strong or dedicated.
I believe it is important to realize we cannot be everything to everyone, and to seek balance between who we are at work and who we are in our relationships. It is this delicate interplay between roles, which requires you to be self-reflective, aware, and intuitive, that will ultimately enable you to experience the joy in what you do and prevent burn out. This is how, step by step, you practice self-care so you are able to do the unimaginable when it comes around. And it will, whether in the form of working your 35th hour, or needing to tell a family their loved one has passed away.
"This is the process: growing pains and wanting to be at the finish line already, but knowing time will pass and you will get there."
Graduating medical school seems like finally scaling the largest mountain in my life. And as I came up to the summit, I marveled at how incredible it really is—but there is yet another mountain that is much larger and more intense—residency. This is a good thing, because it is more learning, growing, and exploring. It can also be a little terrifying.
But each next step in life seems bigger than the last. Maybe your next step is the biggest thing you have had to deal with up until this moment in your life. To make it through, you have to level up and be a better version of yourself to get from where you are, to somewhere you've never been. This is the process: growing pains and wanting to be at the finish line already, but knowing time will pass and you will get there, so you have to focus on your mindset instead.
"Don’t stop, keep going: you don't have to be fearless, but make sure you're not fear driven."
Looking back from this vantage point, at the experiences I have had in the last 4 years both inside and outside of medicine, there have been plenty of growing pains. All of them have shaped me in how I wanted to care for patients, how I wanted to make a difference in health care and in peoples’ lives, and how I care for myself.
As huge as one moment can be in altering one’s life, I’d like to think it is the culmination of many moments: choosing to do the right thing, dedication to learning and improving, loving on others—over and over—that gets us to where we are. So, one step at a time. One thing at a time. Don’t stop, keep going: you don't have to be fearless, but make sure you're not fear driven.
About the author:
Christine Chung, DO is an osteopathic physician starting her general surgery residency training in Colorado this June 2017. She is a native Californian who loves to travel, practice yoga, and hike in her free time. She is passionate about writing, nutrition, mentoring, and supporting other women in medicine. Follow her journey at christinemichellewrites.com and on Instagram @christinemichelle__.