Perfect Timing

May 25, 2010

Do you ever look up from your crazy, hectic life and wonder how you got there? I sometimes look around and wonder how I made it to this point in life - married for more than a decade, mother to four kids, finally a somewhat “experienced” physician.

Do you ever look up from your crazy, hectic life and wonder how you got there? April was an exceedingly busy month and I was shocked when the end appeared so quickly. Likewise, I sometimes look around and wonder how I made it to this point in life - married for more than a decade, mother to four kids, finally a somewhat “experienced” physician. What happened to my 20s? It cannot be possible that my medical school’s 10-year reunion has already passed by.

I understand the pace of life accelerates with passing years, but I believe part of this time shock is because of the very straight and predictable course I took through my education and training. I was so anxious to achieve my goals - get into college, graduate college, get into medical school, graduate medical school, finish residency, finish my Army commitment, find an academic position - that much of the journey is a blur in my memory.

I went right from high school to college then to medical school. I got married at the end of medical school and headed straight off into marriage and residency (the first year of marriage should not be combined with the first year of residency). The end of residency found me expecting our first child, who was delivered just as I was starting my first “real” doctor job. And it has continued from there.

I wonder, were I to do it again, if I would change the timing of anything. Of course, the short answer is no - I wouldn’t change my life for anything. But, I would advise something different for someone following in my footsteps. To start, I would strongly recommend taking some time off between college and medical school. You don’t realize it until later, but this is the last moment of true freedom you will have. Once medical school starts, it is exceedingly difficult to stop the train without getting off.

Using this interval time - between graduation from college and the four years you spent finding yourself and the next phase of your life when you start to define yourself - allows you to explore other aspects of your personality, passions, and interests.

I would have backpacked around Europe or taught in an impoverished school or worked overseas. Any of these experiences would have enriched rather than detracted from the experiences I would go on to have in medical school.

I would concentrate less on the future and more on the present. Medical training is grueling and it is natural to picture a rosier future devoid of 100-hour work weeks and being the “scut monkey.” However, there are moments of fun and joy and adventure in the midst of gross anatomy lab or intern year, just as there are moments of exhaustion and being humbled in your future.

I would focus less on the perfect timing of medical school, marriage, and motherhood, and allow a greater flexibility of accepting what is before me in the moment. Fortunately, I have a whole future to follow my own advice.