Surgical residency hurt the people that mean the most to me

Three weekday call shifts left and two more weekends. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright, and I am relieved to be walking towards it. The only question that remains is what will I have left of myself and my life when I get there?

I started residency with a husband who I loved more than life itself. I was codependent to a fault, never wanted to leave his side, and completely intertwined in his life. We traveled, we partied, we loved culture and we took in as much of the world together as humanly possible. Maybe the joyful times we had did not come with enough of the tough conversations that would have made getting through these long years of residency easier but it was the best time of my life.

Surgical residency is like a vacuum. It not only sucks you in but sucks the life you had out of you. The process conforms you into a new person that is able to withstand death, dying, and making incredibly tough decisions as easily as some people handle making dinner plans.

As a woman in a very male dominated program with few mentors, the training pulls your femininity right out of you. “Man up”: Words I and my cohorts heard a million times, in our conscious mind they seemed ridiculous and insulting but somehow still managed to changed us. The happy youthful fun girl was lost. I became a machine of the system, able to tolerate working days in a row without sleep. I learned to stop crying and continuously be strong. During my darkest days, the worst thing someone might think they noticed about me was that I may have had a cold.

Work always came before family. If I or anyone else ever wavered from that path, they were likely publicly humiliated for their misstep. We were not there for our families or possibly worse, we were there in the wrong ways.

It is hard to turn the doctor off when you go home. It was hard to see the dynamics in your household shift before it was in many cases too late. The previously loving wives, pushed their husbands aside and did not notice the change in dynamic before it was broken. The husbands at home, many professionals themselves, getting older, watching their friends make families while their lives were on hold, waiting patiently for their time once residency ended.

In a program with many women, all the married female residents filed for divorce if they entered the program with a partner. Men seemed to stay married but would commonly joke that they did not know their partners anymore.

I miss my old self. I miss being a girl; I miss feeling like a woman. Now that it is finally time to walk into the light, I walk in alone. I believe the knowledge that I have gained is invaluable. I am honored to have been given the chance to help make a difference in so many people’s lives.

However, in this process, I have hurt and lost the people that mean the most to me. I do not believe that training a person to help others should come at such a cost. The system is growing and trying to change; we just haven’t made it there yet.

The author is an anonymous surgical resident.

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