Packing for the next level of your medical career

As July draws near, it is moving day in medicine. For physicians, it signifies moving into the next level of professional growth.

Let’s think about what moving entails.  When we move from one physical location to the next, like into a new apartment or from one city, state, or country to another one, there is the process of sorting through our belongings.  We make two lists: what stays and moves with us to the next destination and what gets left behind, sold, or simply released.

The same is true in this journey in medicine. To continue to grow and live successfully doctors have to decide what will continue on and what needs to be sorted out, left behind or released. This is a pivotal step in career development. And it is one that is often neglected.

Many doctors, myself included, have been guilty of carrying the stress, the struggle, and the setbacks experienced at one point in our career into the next new opportunity. Then we wonder why this new opportunity takes a turn for the worse so quickly.  Instead of learning the lesson the experience offered and healing, we get trapped in the details of how we were wronged, victimized, and treated unfairly. This is what we focus on, and sure enough, we find it with each new level of career growth.  Focusing on the negative does not benefit doctors. It holds you back from the joy you seek in your life and career.

The experiences we have with our patients, teams, nurses, colleagues, and life, in general, are orchestrated to further define and refine who we are as clinicians and who we are behind the white coat, the stethoscope and the medical degree.

Maybe when you moved into the next level of your career, you packed with you the limiting belief of not knowing enough along with the embarrassment and feeling belittled from an experience you had with one attending physician in medical school or during internship year when you did not know the answer.  You have allowed that experience to dictate how you feel and how you perform on every rotation.  It has left you silently questioning your own abilities.  It has made you feel like your peers do not respect your knowledge or authority.

Now you are the attending on the floor, in the unit, or the clinic.  You notice that certain questions make you feel unsettled. Certain patient encounters shake your confidence.  You thought that once you became an attending it would be different. In many ways, attending life is better.  Doctors enjoy it even more when they know what needs to be healed, processed, and released to step fully into their role of attending physician, leader, teacher, and team member.

As you grow and move from medical student to intern, intern to resident, and resident to attending, consider what you need to take with you to facilitate continued advancement and progress. What do you need to release and leave behind that is no longer useful and is not helping you grow?

This process is easy for the material things in our life. It is much clearer why we hold onto the physical things in our life. We keep what’s useful. We hold onto items that have sentimental value even if we no longer use it.

It’s more challenging to sort through your own thoughts and beliefs.  They are an integral part of us and are much harder to let go. It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with the decision that there is something in the experience that is more harmful than helpful and so it goes on the list to let it go.

Doctors take an oath to first do no harm. This applies to you and me as well.

Stephanie Wellington is a physician and can be reached at Nurturing MDs.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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