The Lancet Student

Rime of the Anxious Resident

This blog was submitted by Adam on 27th June 2012.
Tagged with residency responsibility fear graduation duty

As I’ve written before, I’ve never been the most certain medical student. My real academic love is History, leaving me totally isolated from classmates as they compete in sports, travel to Africa, and research obscure enzymatic pathways. I smiled when one physician described my love of History as “sort of the ‘mental health’ of passions.” That is, it’s a legitimate passion (condition), but people don't acknowledge it. While studying History kept me sane through Med school, it’s always been something that’s garnered more awkward lines like “oh…cool” than genuine interest. And since it has no direct application to Medicine, I frequently find myself stuck between worlds.

In a frank moment of self-reflection when I first accepted my spot at the University of Saskatchewan, I wrote in my diary that “even if Medicine isn’t my thing, having an M.D. can only make life easier.” Four years of schooling have matured—but not totally changed—my perspective. Doubts regarding my motivation have lingered and evolved into doubts regarding my capability. Is Medicine my thing? It certainly isn’t my passion; more importantly for my patients, having a degree and passing my exams doesn’t mean I’m any good at it.

And how can I expect people to trust me when I don’t even trust myself? I feel like on July 1, when I begin residency, I’ll become the greatest con man I know. Just how much difference is there between the fraud who sells remedies he knows are useless and the scared still-student who gives out ones he isn’t sure about? Ask me to go to a History conference and present a paper, and I jump at the chance, but ask me to see a sniffling little boy with a hurt arm and I quail.

Now, of course there is oversight and supervision, just like when I was a student. But just weeks ago I could still hide behind the fact that I wasn’t a doctor yet, that the real doctor would be in shortly. I feel like all eyes are on me, expecting my degree to make me perfect. To the next patient I see, I’ll be Dr. Fowler, and so bearing an authority I don’t feel the right to bear. That, I suppose, is the point of residency: to teach us to carry that weight a few more steps each day. To have mentors point us in the right direction when we’re adrift. But I’m scared, more scared than I have ever been in my life. The degree hanging on my wall might as well be my albatross.

I just hope that in telling my story, my wandering will end a little sooner than the Mariner’s.


Mini on 2nd July 2012 9:45am

Every person has got lots of dreams, one being the most important which the person tries to fulfill first... I too have got a lot of dreams and plans other than my most desired dream of studying medicine and I feel its quite natural that we try to fulfill the other ones as well!

trypanophobia on 9th July 2012 6:54pm

Hi Adam, I just wanted to say that I'm really enjoying reading your blogs - do write more. They really strike a chord with me. I also started studying medicine after several years of doing other things, and at times the very idea of it seems absurd ('what, me, a doctor, don't be so ridiculous', etc). I keep a rather tentative and sporadic blog here which started as a way to chart my progress with not fainting every time I saw a needle (which I saw you also wrote about) and then seemed to turn more into some existential mutterings about whether I was doing the right thing with my life. It's great to read the point of view of other people who come at medicine from different angles and who aren't necessarily 100 per cent certain all the time. Personally I believe that the medical profession needs more people with varied backgrounds. Good luck!