If you had asked me 15 years ago what I wanted to be when I “grow up,” a doctor was definitely not a thought in my mind. I wasn’t bred at a young age to become a physician by the ancestors that walked before me, nor did I desire to go through that much schooling before I could enter the real world and make a paycheck. But the universe had other plans, and I would soon find that out the hard way.
The cornerstone of creating a life for myself was a blessing in disguise came from a horrible tragedy. Life has plans for us that we do not even know exist — sometimes we like them and sometimes we don’t. I became motherless at a young age. A life taken too young from breast cancer, taught me resilience in the face of adversity, which veered my internal compass towards the path least traveled by any member of my family. Four long years of college, and four longer years of medical school, but then I found myself at a place in my life where I was finally happy. I found my true calling. I became Danielle Krol, MD, but that was just the beginning.
It has been three years, and today, I graduate from medical residency.
Remembering back to my first day of medical internship, with my newly starched white coat and a penlight in my pocket, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The only accessories I was fashionably flaunting on day one was a stethoscope around my neck and a cool new ID badge that said “physician” on it. I found myself with a residency position, ready to take on the world! I had finally graduated from the ultra embarrassing short white coat to a long one, and was able to embark on a journey of doctorhood, also known as medical residency. Out of the medical school womb for merely one week, the day came to put my years of knowledge to good use — to harbor the responsibility of making decisions, and to learn from those who came before us. On my first day as an intern, if I had known what I know now, the experience would not have been as fun.
As I reflect back on my three years as a doctor-in-training, I can’t help but to laugh and to cry. I am exhausted from being overworked, but feel accomplished for a goal that I had set to achieve when I lost my mother. I am grateful for the opportunity to become a physician, because it is a privilege, not a right. I can’t help to think of the friendships I’ve made, and the friendships that I’ve lost. I think about the family functions that I’ve attended, and also the weddings and birthdays that I missed. I think about all of the sacrifices I’ve made, the holidays I’ve missed and the dates I had to cancel last minute. I think about the knowledge I’ve learned and the things I feel I still don’t know. But that is medicine: complicated cases, rare disease and more to learn.
Residency is a whirlwind of emotion, dedication, sleepless nights and hard work. As I graduate from residency and watch the new wave of young doctors take my place, I am finally letting go of a place that shaped me into becoming the doctor that I am today. It makes me sad, but excited for what is yet to come.
For the new wave of young doctors:
Take a step back and look at how awesome your job is. Be grateful you have a job. You matched into residency, when some of your med school classmates did not. In the next three years, you are going to do some amazing things depending on your field of training: deliver babies, manually pop back in a dislocated hip, remove gallbladders, diagnose cancer, bring back a life and pronounce a patient dead. I hope you’ll hold a dying patient’s hand when there are no other family members around to do so. Don’t worry, you will think you are really dumb when you don’t know the answer on rounds, but it’s OK, chances are you’ll be saved by the sound of your beeper. You have an amazing job; you are a doctor now. You’ll get to help people when they are in their most venerable state, because they rely on your knowledge to solve what is wrong with them. No matter how many years of experience you have, being a doctor comes with uncertainty, unrevealed fear and will keep you on your toes. It’s exciting, and your presence will make a difference in so many people’s lives.
You will not travel this journey alone. It was a shared experience. The people who you will meet in residency are not simply your co-workers you went through residency with, they are friends you went through life with. They share the experience with you. You’ll bond and feel like family by the end of it all, at least I did. The nurses support you, so be nice to them. Some will even become you friends, or maybe your husband or wife. When the time the third year of residency comes, you will have to part ways from each other. Your journey with each other will come to an end, but you will hold on the memories forever.
Your patients will teach you how to become a doctor. Remember this, and do not forget who the other person is in the doctor-patient relationship. Your patients are more than “bed number 8”. Your patients mean everything, and they have names. Your patients put their trust in you, the new doctor, without really knowing who you are. They may be demanding at times, but they are sick and need your help. We help them at their worst, and in return they tolerate you at your worst. Exhausted from that 30-hour shift, overworked, hungry, and still learning every step of the way — they tolerated you. Some patients may know more about their disease than you do, do not get scared by this. They will help you see a new perspective on medicine, on treatment and about your profession. Savor every moment.
When I entered residency, I believed it would be just like climbing a mountain. So when I reached the top in my third year, it would all make perfect sense. But the truth is that it didn’t. Residency is just that small part of a much larger journey. As physicians, we continue to climb, continue to improve our skills and continue to discover remarkable new treatments for our patients. The journey required continuous learning and self-reflection. The art of medicine is not how much you know sometimes, it is about the experience we have, and the compassion we give our patients. The past three years have been a roller coaster ride. Now that I about to begin a hematology-oncology fellowship, I am filled with the same excitement and fears that I came to Philadelphia with for residency. I’ve learned so such from incredible people along the way. I am grateful for the good and the bad, as in the end — the only thing that matters is how much I enjoyed the ride.
Danielle Krol is a hematology-oncology fellow and on staff, ABC News Medical Unit. She blogs at Daily Dose MD.
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