A question to ask physicians: How much is tough enough?

“You folks have it easy.”

As a resident, it is not uncommon to hear these words on the wards from older physicians.

After all, this new generation is spoiled, one could say.

At the time when I trained, we had hour limitations and “caps” on the number of cases we could handle as interns on our shifts. Now, that seems to have reversed.

Second year was tougher in a sense that there were almost no limitations on workload. I remember pushing through exhaustion quite frequently.

We hear tough training “makes you or breaks you.”

I saw comrades come out stronger, more self-confident, calmer in the face of chaos. I saw comrades building teamwork and leadership skills.

I also saw broken spirits, depressed souls, exhausted idealists. I saw cynicism in the face of daily dealings with life and death.

As a chief resident, I made sure no one “slacked.” We had a poster of the resident mugshots by year of training, and we knew the “weak links” that required more “toughening” before they would be “torn apart” by the ICU attending.

Residency definitely made me more resilient. As an attending physician,  I can testify that life as a doctor is not necessarily easier now and I owe many things to my rigorous training as I face my daily challenges.

At the same time, residency put life on hold. It strangled creativity, limited interaction with friends and loved ones. It suffocated simples pleasures of life.

For many, life is still on hold after training. Increasing physician burnout rates confirm that.

For a few, yet too many, life actually ends prematurely. Many of them during training. Physicians have the highest suicide rate in the country. Probably because somewhere along the line, many lose their humanity.

How much is tough enough? Well, that is the wrong question.

We should rather ask, “How can we better edify the young healer?”

“DrizzleMD” is an internal medicine physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Drizzle MD.

Image credit: DrizzleMD

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