As a doctor, I know it’s nearly impossible to find balance as a medical student and resident, so when I was asked to lead a webinar for medical students about finding balance during your medical training, I nearly choked on my green juice. What? Balance in medical school? Hogwash!
Certainly, if it exists, I never attained it. I mean, I tried to have a life. I had season tickets to the theater. I got married (and divorced) and married (and divorced). I attended four funerals and a wedding within one year and tried to honor the dead without pissing off my teachers. And I tried to be there for my sister, who was struggling through some teen angst issues that led us to family counseling.
As a medical student, I took watercolor classes at the night school. I rollerbladed. I went dancing at gay night clubs to let off steam from time to time.
So I wasn’t a total nerd.
But pretty much. Did I live a balanced life the way I do now? No. Was I happy? Absolutely not.
Looking back, I realize that I made the mistake of defining my worth based on what my superiors thought of me. How would I know I was a good person/good doctor? They would give me excellent evaluations and I would make straight A’s. Which means that I wasn’t a very good daughter/wife/friend/sister/independent being. When I look back, I don’t think acing that biochemistry exam changed my life today, but missing my sister’s graduation in order to study for it certainly did. At the time, going through “The Match” with my class so I could score my #1 residency program (I was #2 in my class, so I knew I could pretty much write my ticket anywhere) seemed like the most important thing in the world. But it required being separated from my med student husband – who was a year behind me – for a whole year. And we got divorced shortly after that. In retrospect, did it really matter that I forged full steam ahead in my career? Probably not. Did it matter to my marriage? Absolutely.
I did the best I could at the time, but had I known then what I know now, I would have done some things differently as I struggled to find ways to stay sane amidst the trauma, chaos, family upheavals, and academic/emotional challenges of learning to be a doctor. And I suspect that what I learned applies beyond training to be a doctor. Probably any graduate student goes through similar challenges, so this post is for anyone in pursuit of a dream who wants to stay sane in the process.