How to have a life in residency

Medical students and residents become accustomed to living life in year increments. Four years for medical school, three to five years for residency, a couple years for fellowship, research, and so on. While many of us like to think we are putting our life on “pause” as we complete our medical training this just isn’t possible. Life is happening all around us every day. Many physicians look back on their training and feel like they missed a decade or more of their life — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Get to know the people and places around you. As the name “resident” implies, you are basically taking up residence in a hospital and the few miles surrounding it. The majority of your time will be spent there with your co-residents. Many lifelong friendships and professional connections are cultivated during these training years. Find ways to have fun together outside the hospital. Check out local community events, look for volunteer opportunities, or explore new places right in your neighborhood.

Keep in touch. While your busy meeting new people, don’t forget to keep in touch with your friends and family. Communicating via text, email, or a phone call can go a long way when in-person visits aren’t possible. If you are on the receiving end of one of these messages, don’t ignore or take forever to respond. Though your friends and family may know you are busy, their time is also valuable, and no one likes to feel forgotten or dismissed.

Prioritize plans. You will likely be invited to various social events during your training and residents are notorious for missing these. Erratic schedules and lack of vacation time and funds make it difficult to commit. Prioritize which events are most important to you and your loved ones. Try to make an effort but don’t feel guilty if you cannot attend. You will have much more flexibility in the future to take part in all the social events you want (or don’t want) to attend!

Start the family. Feeling ready to start a family? You are not alone. About 40 percent of residents plan to have children during their graduate medical education training according to a recent study featured in Academic Medicine 1. There really is no “perfect” time to have children, and while having children in residency can be challenging, some may argue that it’s actually easier having a child in residency rather than in practice. As a resident, you may be able to front-load your call schedule or more difficult rotations before the baby arrives. Making up time for parental leave and graduating “off-cycle” won’t really matter in the long run. Just make sure you have a game plan for child care. It truly does take a village to raise children so don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Take care of yourself. Becoming a physician requires a lot of sacrifice. In the midst of taking care of others don’t forget to make your own health a priority. Schedule your routine health maintenance, get regular exercise, and explore interests outside of medicine. Remember that medical training is a special time of professional and personal growth. Finding balance now is key for a successful future as a physician.

Angela Seabright is a family physician.

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