What a life in medicine means to me: What this resident is thankful for

Thanksgiving is this week, and I have a lot to be thankful for, both inside and out of medicine. Life isn’t always easy as a resident, and to quote the lyrics of Journey, “And lovin’ a [medicine] man, ain’t always what it’s supposed to be.”

What’s a life in medicine mean to me? It’s certainly not the glamorous. I’m on the back half of 30 years old. I’ve been a doctor for little over 3 years. I drive a 12-year-old Honda with 225,000 miles on it. I have $223,000 (and growing) in student loan debt. I work 60 to 80 hours a week in residency and pick up additional paid shifts moonlighting away through sleepless nights. Other than a scheduled vacation, it’s rare to find a free weekend I’m not in the hospital, moonlighting, or back up call one or more days. I still have 7 months of residency left, of which the days are long yet the months are starting to go by very fast. I have a wonderful wife and beautiful daughter, but between residency, moonlighting, and running #LifeofaMedStudent — I can never seem to spend enough time with them. I miss family events, time with friends, and milestones with my daughter all in the name of medicine. Medicine isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s a willing sacrifice to often put the training and the patient first.

What do I have to be thankful for? All of it, actually. While I haven’t loved every single day in my medical training, I do love that the light is becoming so bright at the end of the tunnel. I graduated high school over 11 years ago. I went through an undergraduate degree, medical school, and now am entering the twilight of 4 years of residency in anesthesia. I am thankful I’ve received an amazing education at great academic centers that have given me the knowledge and skills to reach this point. I’ve learned from excellent attendings whose wisdom, tips, and techniques I will forever carry. I’m thankful for the long days and difficult cases as a resident, each of which has better prepared me for practice on my own.

I’m thankful I have a job lined up and a contract signed — a wonderful mix of a better lifestyle and rewarding pay doing a job I love. The position is back in the area I went through undergrad and where my wife grew up. After years of following me around, she’ll finally be home. I’m thankful we will lastly be settled with a sense of permanence for the first time we’ve ever known.

With a sound financial path, the wisdom to live well below our means, and a low-cost of living area — those student loans will be gone before I know it. For that I am very thankful. Because of changing times I may never reach the level of financial success of many doctors before me, yet I have no doubt I will be more than satisfied with our lifestyle. It’s not easy or quick, but being a physician is still a financial blessing I’m thankful for.

Lastly, I’m thankful for what this job allows me to do. Whether medicine is “just a job” or something more, we can debate. But what I’m sure of is that every day I get to make a difference in a patient’s life. While I may meet my patients only briefly as an anesthesiologist, I know that a comforting hand or reassuring words can mean a world of difference to the anxious patient. And while the surgeon’s knife cuts, I get to watch over grateful people and care for them safely through everything from the most emergent to the most elective of procedures.

Much like the path to reach this point, I know not every day in the future will be easier or even better. But I’m thankful I’m here, thankful for where my future is going, and I’m thankful for the opportunities allowed to me to provide the best of care to my patients. And that is what a life in medicine truly means to me.

“#LifeofaMedStudent” is an anesthesiology resident and can be reached at his self-titled site, #LifeofaMedStudent, and on Twitter @lifeofmedstudent.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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