Training to become a surgeon: Embrace the journey


I’ve never been one with much affection for cold or inclement weather and as such, between November and April, most of my training is done on the treadmill. While many people lament the monotony and unchanging scenery that treadmill running brings, I take the time to lose myself in podcasts.

Recently, during a set of race-pace intervals, I listened to a podcast that featured an interview with Bart Yasso. Yasso is a former champion marathoner, Lyme disease survivor, and the chief running officer for Runner’s World magazine with a popular workout named after him, the Yasso 800’s. As someone who travels around the world to race, teach, and meet people, he has the self-proclaimed best job in the world. During the interview, Yasso comments that “winning isn’t the payoff, but rather the reward is living the lifestyle and embracing the journey. It’s not only about finishing, it is about moving forward.”

Even on the treadmill, this comment gave me pause. I am a competitive person and always have been. I have a strong internal drive that permeates through every aspect of my life. From the hospital and OR to the gym and road, I push myself to the point of breaking because I’ve never known another way. Over the years I’ve developed a mental toughness that pulls me out of bed at 4am to run before heading to work and keeps me up at night, reading papers and textbooks to better care for my patients. Like the treadmill, it sometimes makes my life so regimented that I simply step through the days and forget to enjoy the moment I’m in.

As I move into the next stage as a surgical resident, the responsibilities at the hospital will increase and I will feel myself pulled in more directions than ever before. Mentally and physically, I will be pushed to the limit at work. And yet, this makes those 4am runs ever more important. They provide moments for reflection so that I may, as Yasso said, embrace the journey.

I will probably never win a race outright. And with my increasing time constraints, I may never be a faster or more competitive runner than I am right now. Still, I will need to remind myself that fitness and health are passions of mine and running is as much of my identity as becoming a surgeon. I must learn to embrace the run for the sake of lifestyle, to not become discouraged if my times drop, and to make sure that I am always following my passions. Only then, when I reach the age of Bart Yasso, can I also have the greatest job in the world.

Justin Steggerda is a medical student who blogs at Run Like A Surgeon.

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