1. Practice with eyes wide open. Don’t let the system fool you. You’ll get many different, often contradictory, pieces of advice as you go through your training. The choices never end: which specialty to choose, how to study, where to practice, what to do with your free time. All of these decisions must come from a place inside yourself. Don’t let the “gunners” fool you into thinking you have to commit 100 percent of your time to studying. Don’t let the naysayers dissuade you from pursuing primary care specialties like internal or family medicine because the average income is less or that there is less associated prestige. The goal is to follow your heart regardless of anything else because a career in medicine is hard and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll end up unhappy in life.
2. Focus on your own health. Love yourself. People go into medicine, for the most part, to be of service to society and take care of other human beings in a meaningful way; however, this is impossible if you’re unhealthy and unhappy. Stay committed to your passion for sports, music, art or whatever else it may be. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you sacrifice these things while you’re in medical school or residency, you can get them back later. You’re missing the point here. You’ll lose many, many years of potentially meaningful experiences and when the time comes to reintroduce these things back into your life you’ll find the struggle daunting. Remember that you set an example to every patient and colleague you work with intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
3. Do not make relationship decisions based on your training timeline. This one is tricky. You’ll often see that in 4th year of medical school many people get married. Why? Perhaps it’s because there is such an abundance of love, but I argue it’s actually because medical students have gone through a very trying time together and when it’s time to move away for residency, people are afraid to lose what they have gained. Take your time and realize that this is a long life and things will change. You’ll eventually finish training and you’ll be back to “the real world” where many other challenges await. There’s no need to rush into more commitments. Step back and don’t get caught up in the emotion of it all. Take your time with relationships. Remember, you can still Couples Match and not get married. It could save you much heartache down the road. Of course, this is easier said than done.
4. Never forget your mortality. Every single physician you work with is also mortal. We tend to venerate those older, wiser physicians above us because we strive to be in their position within the hierarchy of medicine. This is a remnant of the past, though. We’re all one big medical community and your teachers are struggling with the same issues you are. They too often have no idea what’s going on with the health care system or what’s coming in the near future. They too struggle with addiction, depression, isolation, fear, etc. Times are changing and it’s time for the younger generation to help lead the way in opening lines of communication about the psychological, emotional and physical stresses physicians face.
5. Most importantly, remember that each patient you encounter is an individual with varying needs and goals. Treat everyone with compassion and patience. Try to meet your patients’ needs instead of imposing your own ideas on them. In a previous article, I wrote about how we’ve dehumanized medicine and have essentially destroyed the doctor-patient relationship. It’s up to young doctors to try to repair this damage and focus on building rapport with patients in order to understand what they really need. Let go of the science and the recommendations for a moment. See the person sitting in front of you (yes, even put the computer down!). Help them find what they’re looking for when they come to see you. The interpersonal piece of medicine is where you’ll truly make a difference in someone’s life.
Dr. Gary Shlifer, DO recently completed his residency training in internal medicine at Indiana University in Indianapolis, IN after attending medical school at Midwestern University (AZCOM) in Glendale, AZ. He is currently an Attending Physician in Los Angeles, CA where he grew up and attended UCLA for his undergraduate studies. He is passionate about sharing his experiences from his medical training and giving a voice to young physicians everywhere. Gary is also a regular contributor with Docs of Tomorrow.