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How to have a successful life


Advice for new physicians as they enter the field.

Editor's Note:Physicians Practice's blog features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for professionals to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions are that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Physicians Practice or UBM.

Every June, I observe residents who have grown over the past few years prepare to finish their training and formally start their career. You can see excitement mixed with a pinch of dread on their faces.

New beginnings are always challenging, and starting a career you've spent seven or more years preparing for is quite stressful. The first few years of your practice are the most formative and crucial. Starting off on the right foot will help you lay a solid bedrock for your success. Those years will be challenging, but they don’t have to be difficult.

When I was preparing to graduate residency, a few mentors shared their wisdom with me. Some of it they learned the hard way, and some of it they learned the advice of their mentors. I followed their advice and have been quite content. I now share with you the wisdom that has helped me so much.


Pass the marshmallow test.

There’s a famous psychological study that involved a marshmallow. They offered young children one marshmallow they could have now or two if they waited. The researchers followed these children as they grew up. Those who could delay their gratification in the present for a more significant reward in the future did better in life. When you get into practice, you’ll be exposed to a large pool of marshmallows. Resist the temptation to buy a bunch of marshmallows and other goodies. Invest your money wisely, and pay down your debt. You’ll be glad you did in a few years.


Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

You might be the smartest you ever will be after all those years of intense studying. But going by the book will only get you so far. Experience is what will make you a better doctor. While you’re gaining that experience, it’s OK to be uncomfortable with some of your decisions. That self-doubt means you have a servant mentality for caring for another human being. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t confident about what you should do with a patient. Even the most experienced physicians find themselves at a loss from time to time. Be humble enough to consult your textbooks, colleagues, and supervisors to ensure you are providing appropriate care, even if you don’t initially know what that should be.


Don’t sacrifice family for your practice.

Do what you can to prevent your career from engulfing everything that you are. When you retire, your career won’t be there for you. Your family will be. Invest in your loved ones more than you invest in your career. You will miss some family events-it’s part of the job. But make it a priority to attend every family event you can. I’ve seen too many physicians miss their kids as they grew up and didn’t really get to know them as adults.


Know your mission and purpose.

Part of staying sane in the ever-changing world of medicine is knowing the what and why of what you do. This is an excellent way to avoid burnout. The what is your mission, the tasks you perform, and the decisions you make for your patients. The why is the purpose for your mission. Write down your mission and purpose and refer to them frequently. These will help you stay focused on the bigger picture and make the minutia and tedious stuff more tolerable.


Learn about business.

I think all physicians should have business knowledge if they are to deliver exemplary patient care. You’ll make better and more effective decisions if you have some financial intelligence. Read books, attend seminars, and network with other business-minded physicians. Share ideas and help each other solve problems. If you want to be a leader, obtain business intelligence. Personally, I feel my book, The Financially Intelligent Physician: What They Didn’t Teach You in Medical School, is a great place to start.

David J. Norris, MD, MBA, is a physician at Wichita Anesthesiology, Chartered, in Wichita, Kansas. He is also an author, practice and negotiation consultant, and founder of The Center for Professional Business Development.

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