11 June 2019

July 1st is almost here, and a new class of surgical interns will soon be in place. It’s an exciting and at the same time unsettling period. Many who are well past the trainee phase have been sharing suggestions on making the successful transition from student to doctor via social media using the hashtag #TipsForNewDocs.

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in panel discussions and “mixers” over the past several years, organized for medical students interested in a career in surgery. I always find these sessions stimulating. The faculty share stories of how we came to choose surgery, and convey to the next generation of surgeons what we love about our profession. The students always have many thought-provoking questions.

At a session a few months ago, a student asked a question that I had not heard before. Medical school and residency, especially for surgery, are grueling. There are some who become very hardened during that training period, and unfortunately a few do not “soften up” (return to being human) once their residency and fellowship are over. As these individuals advance into leadership roles, they can be challenging to work with, and even more so to train under. A student asked: “What do you think went wrong?” And the implication was “How can I keep that from happening to me?”

The faculty shared examples of some of the tools we use to cope with stress: create and nurture a strong circle of friends and confidants within and outside of medicine; maintain outside interests and hobbies; exercise; fight for the ever-elusive sleep. But we also acknowledged the importance of being honest with yourself if you are truly unhappy. Many described complete U-turns (made by themselves or colleagues) during training or even later in a career to get to a place where they felt comfortable. There is no shame is saying “I was wrong – this is not for me.”

Whether it’s taking time to go for a walk or re-thinking your career path, you owe it to your patients, your colleagues, your support staff, and most of all to yourself to pay attention to what feeds you. Life is short and too much is at stake.