Residency and family: How this resident finds balance

It was 5:30 a.m., and I was startled to feel the nudge of my husband’s hand on my arm while vaguely hearing the sound of my alarm going off in the background.  Although I was not prepared mentally to get up for another day, I quickly jumped out of bed so as not to allow the sound to wake my sleeping daughter in the next room. I cherished no actually, I needed the time I had to myself in the morning to not only prepare for the day for me but also for my daughter.  I had already set our clothes out the night before, so that was thankfully taken care of.
Unfortunately, I dropped my daughter off at “school” so early that her teachers requested I give additional food prior to the normal provided breakfast. I had seen other parents drop off their children with a variety of morning meals and snacks, mostly processed or on-the-go options. I understood why they did it, but I wanted my daughter to have as much healthy food as possible. Every morning I cut up fresh fruit and tried to supplement with protein.

I finished making our meals, got dressed, got my daughter ready and then headed to the daycare. I was in the middle of placing all of her food on her plate when I heard another mom comment on how good the meal looked. That day it was a hardboiled egg, fresh strawberries and a homemade biscuit with a honey stick as a special treat. (I’d made the biscuits the night before.)  I was feeling really good about myself until she asked me what I did.  I told her I was a doctor. She responded that she was also a physician — a fellow in fact. I then clarified that I was a resident. Her next comment was, “Oh well that explains it. You must have so much free time to make these meals because you’re only a resident.”

Only a resident? That certainly came as a surprise. That year, I wasn’t even technically a resident but rather a lowly intern. Time was certainly not something I felt like I had a lot of. My hours seemed grueling: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the week except every fourth day when I’d work until about 9 p.m.  I often passed the radiology registration section in the early evening and looked longingly at the fact that no one was there, thinking, “That will be me next year. And when I’m there, I’ll have so much more free time.”

Sure enough, I made it through intern year and finally became a resident. Eventually, I even had a second daughter. As expected, the degree of responsibility and level of knowledge that I needed to know grew exponentially, especially once I was responsible for taking solo call for the hospital.  My hours did get slightly better, but I soon learned a valuable lesson about the benefits of having time management skills; skills I hadn’t quite perfected (and still haven’t to be perfectly honest).

I’ve spent the majority of my residency working side-by-side with my attendings, looking at images, reviewing cases and trying to process which key findings to watch out for in the future.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to take it all in, so I have to supplement with reading and studying during my “free time.” I know my colleagues are reading more than me. I know that I could miss out on time with my family so as to be more learned.  But I’ve come to realize that, like most things in life, balance is key. I will work hard every day at whatever is assigned to me; I will do my very best for each patient to make pertinent findings and relevant diagnoses; I will continue to cut up fresh fruit in the morning and read a book to my daughter every night before she goes to sleep.

I will spend every day trying to find the right balance: for me, for my family and for my future.

Kerri Vincenti is a radiology resident.   This article originally appeared in the American Resident Project.

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