Friday, May 6, 2011

Not For The Faint of Heart

Medical School, Internship, Residency, and Fellowship are not for the faint of heart.

I think most of us would agree that anyone who is contemplating signing up for 10+ years of graduate school and training, with it's accompanying mountain of debt, is made of steel. The same can be said of those who choose to take the journey with them. When someone finds out that I am married to a Neurosurgery resident they without fail make a statement as to his genius and intellect. He is a smart guy, I wouldn't have married him if he wasn't:-). But he would be the first to tell you that he was an average student. And I usually respond to these statements with "anyone can be a doctor if you are willing to sacrifice enough time and money to make it happen". Well that, and you should probably have some natural desire to do it.

Not too many people are willing to commit to the time, after all it is a decade! Few people can even fathom the amount of debt required to make it all happen. And fewer still have the aptitude to be good at it. But everyone would like to experience the fruit of their sacrifice. The spoils of war. The life of doctors they see portrayed in TV, movies, and books. Even the shows dedicated to resident life don't accurately portray what it really is.

Medical School
We were married during his 3rd year of medical school. From what I understand I missed out on most of the burnout years consumed with didactics, tests, non-stop studying.  I came in at just the right time - as he was doing his clinical rotations. Some rotations were demanding, others were less so, and they only lasted one month. His fourth year was much the same. If this was any indication of what the following few years would be, it didn't seem so bad. It was during this time that we also had our first child.

One of the injustices of being committed to a partner who is also committed to medicine is that the number of programs located in your home town or home state are very limited if they even exist at all. We moved 2,000 miles from our family, which would mean the number of visits we would make would be severely limited. I don't believe anyone who was involved in structuring medical school and residency ever intended for the doctors to be married or have families. I agree it would be much easier if they were all single and childless in some ways. In other ways having a spouse to share your journey with can be a valuable asset.

Most medical students will go on to do Internships and Residencies in locations that take them far away from their family and support groups. Depending on the size of the program they may have others in the same situation if you are lucky.

The Internship year felt an awful lot like the 4th year of medical school. A different rotation every month, schedules that were sometimes flexible, others that weren't. Even the bad ones weren't terrible because of their short duration. Enter child number two.

And then there was residency! Welcome to your new life. One that begins to reshape your vision of what you thought a residency would be. It's no mistake that they call these PGY2 doctors "residents". The name implies they live at the hospital, and often they do. Residents don't set their schedules, they come in before the attendings get there and usually leave after they have gone home. They have call schedules that can be as demanding as every other night or every third night. Depending on the hospital they may have to take "in-house" call, meaning they are at the hospital. Or they may be able to take call from home.

Taking call from home is sometimes nice when there aren't many calls. But on nights when the resident gets many calls, no one sleeps much. Have you ever tried sleeping with a pager? You never know when it is going to go off. I thought after a while I would be able to sleep through it, but after having kids my ears are finely tuned instruments listening for any sound that goes bump in the night.

Their hours are not set. You know what time they will leave for work, but you never know when they will be home. Some days you get lucky and it is at a normal time. Other days you might not see them at all. And even on those days when you get the call in the afternoon that they might be home in time for dinner, something always comes up to shatter that. After a while I just asked him to not tell me when he was coming home until he was in the car. I could deal with that.

Ah, the fellowship. It's not a required part of training, but for those who want to further specialize it is often a necessity. And this is where we find ourselves. I thought if I could just make through the 5th year of residency we would have succeeded. At this point in time may residents have job offers accepted and are planning their moves to new locations even though they won't happen for another year. In our case, we have been interviewing for Fellowships.

A fellowship means another move for one or maybe two years. It means an extension of our time in training, it means a real job offer is just that much farther away. We have one child in school and another who will be starting school when we start a fellowship. It means my husband will be 40, and I won't be far behind.

So here we are. The end of our 5th year of residency, interviewing for fellowships, waiting to see where the next chapter of our journey takes us.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are fun, don't be shy. If you are visiting this blog for the first time leave me a note to introduce yourself.