The slow slog through medical school can take its toll. Some believe it is nothing more than piles of books, too many cadavers and sleepless nights, rounding in specialties you care nothing about, observing and shadowing until you think you will die from boredom, and the crowning touch of public humiliation by attendings. By year three it can lead a medical school student to cry out in the metaphorical darkness asking, “Is anyone actually happier once they get into residency?” From those who have survived medical school and made it to the promise land of residency, the answer is “It all depends”.
A 3rd-year medical school student posed the question on the student doctor forum.
And here are some of the answers:
Life As An Intern Is The Pits
I’m definitely not happier. As an intern, life sucks. It may be an even lower point for you. Make sure you are mentally capable of it, you don’t want to be one of the people that commit suicide while in residency. The last 2 years of medical school are great, make sure you take the time to enjoy the last few low-stress years of your life. Once you have finished interviewing in 4th year, you have done all you can. Put your feet up, have some Mai Tais and travel.
Look Inside To Survive And Find Happiness
#1: In my experience, happiness is more a reflection of myself than of my situation or others. When I have been really unhappy, the solutions were internal rather than external.
In general, having purpose, autonomy, and pride are three factors that relate to happiness in your workplace. It’s tough in school and residency where autonomy is hard to come by. I believe you need to augment those hours by finding time for things where you are in control.
#2: Also take some dedicated reflection time to determine what it is that makes you feel happy. Is it interesting work? Knowing that you’ve made a difference? Time spent outside of work with loved ones? Some of these factors will be more under your control; others less so. The point is – whatever works for you. Identify it. Find it. Recognize it when you do find it. And most importantly, know that the suck is probably time-limited.
The Work Makes You Happy
Absolutely, positively, I am significantly happier as an EM resident than I was as a third-year med student. I’m seeing patients on my own, doing my own lines, my own procedures. I’m actually involved in resuscitations and not just the guy who cuts off the clothes. Sure, the hours are long. Sometimes the excess responsibility can get overwhelming. But I feel like the support structure in residency is way better too. Our class and our attendings routinely grill burgers, grab beers after a crazy shift, hang out at each other’s houses. The growth as an intern over one year is massive when you compare it to all four years of med school. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for us.
Tough Love – Get Real About It All
#1: I’m in residency with one year left: If you are not happy as a medical student during MS3-4, then I posit you will not be the happiest resident either.
You didn’t like your OB, IM, or FM rotations? Well, I hate to break the news, but you will be seeing all kinds of patients in similar settings. You didn’t like your psychiatry rotation? I’d wager that comorbid psychiatric illness complicates over half of the routine bread and butter that I see on a daily basis. If you are not happy now, the chances that residency will magically make it all better are low.
#2: Your mindset sucks. Every day you wake up, you have a choice. You can choose to find value in every rotation, knowing that it will add to your overall medical knowledge, which will make you a more competent physician…… Or you can bitch about how it’s not the stuff you want to do. Maybe it sucks and maybe it feels like a waste of time, but your perspective is a choice.
Survey Says: Residency Is Ok
The “Residents Lifestyle and Happiness Report”, a recent Medscape survey conducted in 2017, asked 1500 residents in 25 specialties about this very issue. In general, residents said they were happy, despite long hours, exhaustion and worries about not being good enough. Here are a few of the results:
When it comes to mental and personal wellness, the struggle is real. Some residents report feeling depressed some (35%) or all (10%) of the time. The majority (51%) say they rarely or never feel depressed. The vast majority, 83%, say they rarely, never or only sometimes have time to pay attention to personal wellness. Only 18% of residents say there is time for personal wellness all or most of the time.
Residents’ social life takes a hit too. The vast majority, 82% say they sometimes, rarely or never have time for a “satisfying social life”. Only 18% say they have time for a social life “always” or “most of the time”.
Exhaustion remains a factor in residency. 67% of survey respondents said they are always (19%) or sometimes (48%) too tired to perform well. 33% said they are rarely or never too tired.
Having doubts about one’s clinical ability doesn’t end with medical school. 70% of residents surveyed said they have doubts about being a good doctor all the time (20%) or sometimes (50%) while only 30% said they rarely or never have doubts.
So why aren’t residency programs emptying out? Because despite the pressures and exhaustion, residents still love medicine. When asked about the most rewarding part of their jobs, the majority of survey respondents (76%) said ‘the clinical knowledge and experience that I’m getting”, 67% said “being good at finding answers, diagnoses etc., and an equal number* said “gratitude and relationships with patients”.
When residents were asked the question of the hour, “Are you still looking forward to being a doctor?”, a resounding majority – 85% – said yes. Only 4% said no and 11% were undecided.
So despite the sometimes extraordinary difficulties of medical school, it looks like residents agree, you may not be happier as a resident but you will probably find that you made the right choice. You do want to be a doctor.