Tips for adjusting to life after residency

The more I talk to new physicians who are transitioning into practice, the more I realize how many substantial life and career shifts occur post-residency.

I experienced these changes myself several years ago, but it’s taken me a while to fully process them and realize how they’ve affected my life.

In fact, it would be safe to say that I experienced a complete 180 after graduating from residency. I know other new physicians go through these exact same changes every year, whether they’re prepared for them or not.

Based on my experiences and observations, the majority of these changes can be divided into two categories: role changes and lifestyle changes.

Post-residency role changes

As you begin your life after residency, your roles will change. You’ll shift:

  • From student to clinician
  • From bread eater to bread winner
  • From “life on hold” to “life on the go”
  • From no business to KNOW business
  • From internal focus (lectures, rounds, boards, research, study, call) to external focus (employer, patient care, malpractice, kids/family, spouse, financial obligations, house/car)
  • From obligations to yourself to obligations to others

Post-residency lifestyle changes

In addition to your roles changing, your lifestyle will change, too. You’ll shift:

  • From following an academic curriculum to creating your own life and practice curriculum
  • From having an academic community of advisors assigned to you to having to assemble your own “life after residency” team
  • From having an academic system that determines whether your pass or fail as a physician to having a life that’s filled with unknowns
  • From having others approve of you and your work to determining your own happiness, worth and legacy

Approaching the unknown

It’s easy to see that these are all enormous changes. While most of them are anticipated and exciting, actually transitioning into your new life can be extremely difficult.

When I was approaching graduation from residency, I started to panic. With all of its murky unknowns, it felt similar to beginning medical school.

However, I knew this transition was different. This time, I wouldn’t have a blueprint. 

To ease my stress, I asked myself how I could recreate elements of the structure, safety and certainty that I was accustomed to in medical school and residency.

After a while, I realized the biggest change would be the people I was surrounded with. Then, I wondered: How could I assemble a new network of people to guide and support me as I became a physician?

Creating a “life after residency” alliance

Can you imagine graduating from residency without an academic system in place? Without the support, teaching, guidance and coaching of your respected team of educators?

The same goes with medical school — Graduate Medical Educators, including preceptors, program directors, nurses and administrators were assigned to you, and your training would have been impossible without them.

In short, during most of your adult life, you’ve followed a proven process that was already in place. Becoming a physician is black and white. You know that if you sway from the process, you might be penalized with a failing grade, an unhappy patient or even a lawsuit.

You’ve never had to worry about surrounding yourself with experts, as the members of your “alliance” were already chosen for you. You merely followed the system.

As a new physician, rebuilding your own alliance is critical.

Adriana Tobar is a family physician and resident advisor for Adventures in Medicine.

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