June in the United States heralds the month when residencies end and new ones begin. While much will be written soon about the dangers of entering hospitals this time of year (this story never seems to tire with mainstream media), I would like to step back and reflect on why doctors should consider attending residency graduations. I had the pleasure of doing so recently.
Excitement. With all of the dreary news of health care reform and its implications to doctors these days, it is refreshing to see the excitement of young doctors and their proud supportive families as they move on to the next chapter of their life. In limited quantities, naïveté is a beautiful thing. We were there once, remember? It was interesting to observe that despite the uncertainties ahead (and the chuckles that were heard as this fact was mentioned) the mood still seemed bright to all. What job is better, right?
Perspective. If you really want to hear the skinny on health care, go to a residency graduation and talk to a wide variety of doctors — both new and old. The varied perspectives are helpful to see where things are going. For instance, I spoke with a well-respected gerontologist: she mentioned how residents she trained loved her rotation but decided on dermatology instead because of their $200,000 in loans.
“I mean, seriously,” she said, ” … the skin? But then again, how can they ever expect to pay amount back, with interest, before they retire doing what I do?”
Or another perspective: there were many more women that I have remembered in years past, and certainly more women holding tiny babies or with young children than I ever remembered. Impressive. And I thought medicine was hard! But balancing the demands of medicine and family, too? I stand in awe of these professionals in life-balance and time-managment. Finally, a more concerning observation: a few graduates will be doing locum tenens work next year. Maybe this is how they wanted it; maybe not – but we should wonder, have we let these people down? Will this be a new trend in the years ahead?
Gratitude. It is nice when the teaching staff show their appreciation of particularly strong residents in each year of training. Likewise, when residents show gratitude to those who have helped them along the way, it’s even nicer. I particularly like when the residents offer a special award to their favorite nurse on the ward. Talk about acknowledging people that matter! The simple acknowledgement of professional colleagues from all levels that go the extra mile day in and day out is too often ignored. Taking time to acknowledge these folks without respect to their “rank” in the patient care hierarchy should be the norm, rather than the exception.
Surprises. It’s hard to beat the senior skit: poking fun at the people and experiences we all endure in medicine makes the bitter pills of long call nights and tough cases easier to swallow. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then who can? Residents who have lived, breathed, laughed and cried together as they move from clinical service to clinical service are uniquely qualified at reminding remind us of the good, bad, and ugly of what we do each day through parody.
But perhaps the best reason for attending graduation is not the rubber chicken dinner, or the skits, or the chance to hobnob with the academic hoi polloi, but the chance to remember why we do all this. Because sometimes, when you least expect it, the residents remind you:
Wes Fisher is a cardiologist who blogs at Dr. Wes.