6 pieces of advice for graduating medical students and residents

My (sometimes solicited, but often unsolicited) advice for graduating medical students, residents, and fellows:

June is one of my favorite times of the year.  One, because it’s summer, but also because it’s graduation season.  I love seeing and hearing about everyone’s accomplishments, and seeing years of hard work come to fruition – although if I’m being honest, it’s bittersweet, because it’s also a reminder of how I’m getting older.

This year, I’ve been more aware of it than most, because I’ve received a lot of messages from medical students waiting to be added to the Physician Side Gigs Facebook group, saying that they’ve graduated.  Some of these conversations inevitably lead to me giving solicited (or unsolicited) advice.  There’s just so many things I wish somebody would’ve told me during my training, and I couldn’t help myself (apologies to those who really didn’t want to hear it).

Anyways, I thought I’d write down some of the advice I most often give.  Here goes:

1. Don’t put your life on hold.  As physicians, we know all too well that tomorrow is never guaranteed.  Do the things that refresh you and make you happy.  Take vacations.  Make time for loved ones.  These things will help you to avoid burnout, and to be a better doctor.  Medicine is a big part of your life, but it isn’t everything.

2. Avoid lifestyle inflation as long as possible.  Seriously.  Don’t blow your sign-on bonus/first paycheck on a luxury vehicle.  Pay off some of your student debt or put some money into your retirement accounts, and buy yourself a nice meal.  There’s plenty of time for the rest, and you don’t want to feel handcuffed to a bad situation because you’ve got a huge mortgage, six figures in student loans, and private school tuition all at the same time.  Start with a budget.

3. Buy disability insurance ASAP — while it’s cheap and you have access to discounts, while you’re healthy, and ideally, before you have children.  I have heard so many awful stories about people who have waited thinking that they can’t afford it, and regretted it.  You’ve spent a ton of time getting to this point, and you need to protect your ability to support yourself.  You can buy a pretty cheap policy for now if it’s all you can afford, lock in on your current health, and increase the benefit later.

4. Learn about the things you didn’t learn in medical school.  Learn about negotiation, how to run a business, and finances.  Like it or not, so many people these days see health care as a business, and it accounts for almost 18 percent of the GDP.  People will try and make money off of you.  Being business and finance savvy will pay itself off with dividends (sorry, I can’t help myself with the puns sometimes).

5. Have children when you want.  I get asked this so much.  There is no perfect time, except when you’re emotionally ready and wanting them.  In my case, I had one during residency and one during my early attending years.  I think the first one was easier, and if I could do it over, I’d probably have had both during residency (program directors out there, don’t hate me – just being honest).  Trying to build a practice when trying to build a family is in my opinion much more complicated.

6. What you do is awesome and meaningful, and you should be proud of it!  At the same time, remember that it’s a privilege to be a part of your patient’s lives in such a meaningful way, and you should both enjoy and respect that.  Be an advocate for both yourself and your patients.

Whew.  All of that being said, for now, just breathe.  You’ve come to the end of a significant chapter, and you deserve to take a break, reflect, and be proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished.  There will be more challenges along the way, but that’s not what you need to worry about today.  Congratulations!

Nisha Mehta is a radiologist and founder, Physician Side Gigs and the Physician Side Gigs Facebook group.  She can be reached at her self-titled site, Nisha Mehta, MD, and on Twitter @nishamehtamd

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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