A socially distant graduation message

Four years ago, after a blissful fourth year of medical school filled with carefully chosen psychiatry electives and plenty of hikes in the mountains, I began my psychiatry residency program. I started on sixteen straight weeks of medicine, and I was terrified. It had been months since my last medicine rotation. The fact that this had been by my own design was no comfort. I was so scared- of my own perceived lack, of the hours, and of call.

The first day was rough. But I figured it out. I found my feet, and I found my friends. I grew. I was uncomfortable. I was unsure. But then, I was confident.

Four years later, in the midst of another blissful fourth year, I found myself again preparing to start medicine. But this time, it had been years, not months. This time there was an unprecedented threat that no one felt prepared for.

Why is it that fear and anxiety are so familiar, but they feel new each time? Once again, I was afraid, perhaps more than anyone else I knew.

The first hour was rough. But I figured it out. I found my feet, and I found friends. I grew.

There is an adage within the medical training system, from pre-med all the way up to seasoned attending. The saying is, “When I was a resident …” and it is usually used to express how they worked harder, worked longer, complained less, struggled more. It is said to imply that compassion is softening the system, and that brutality makes good doctors, and that stress somehow makes us worthy.

I intend to keep that adage alive. But my version varies.

I will say, “When I was a resident, I worked together. I returned to medicine, scared and unsure, and I worked with an ENT, an orthopedic surgeon, and a dermatology resident. My attending was a pathologist. A GI fellow supported me. I needed a lot of help, and sometimes they did too. We relied on our strengths without being critical of our weaknesses. CoVid patients were a puzzle, and we each had a piece. We did not expect anyone to have all the pieces.

Thus once again, my initial fear was unwarranted. We did well, and though nothing this year has turned out as expected, I’m a better physician for all of it.

The trials and triumphs of residency have made this teamwork second nature. I have learned how to be a good psychiatrist for every patient. Sometimes we see people at their worst, and sometimes at their best. Through all these highs and lows, I have learned to listen and learn first. I have learned to honor race, culture, and above all – humanity.

And when I have made mistakes, or been less than my best, I am lucky enough to have coworkers who have corrected me. We must be careful when working with people in the highest throes of emotion; we must protect ourselves while also being respectful. The accountability within our profession allows for this, and I am happy to accept correction with grace. I have noticed that this is not true within every profession, and we are all aware of the after-effects. If I am to keep the lessons I have carefully learned here, I will never be too good to accept advice or recognize that I can do better.

I hope we can move forward from this year’s challenges with the above lessons firmly cemented in our minds. Progress stems from unity, humility, and teamwork. If we are all mindful of this, things can only get better.

Ruchi Vikas is a psychiatry resident.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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