In the world of medicine this is something we hear all too often. “Just one more year”. Just finish med school, just complete internship, then complete residency, now you just have to get through your training program, then just… You can easily spend 10-15 years living like this, just one more year.
The Long Road
From high school you are working hard to get the exam marks needed to enter medicine. You think, I just need to make it through this year and I’ll be okay. Once you’re in medical school the next 4-6 years of your life is similar. I just need to get through this year and I will almost be done. In my final year of medical school I wasn’t even sure that medicine was for me, but I thought, just one more year and I will graduate. I’ll be finished.
However, this thought process can become a recurring one throughout your medical career. Internship may be one of the hardest years you will experience, and can be more challenging than medical school. You can have moments were you question why you are doing this, and if you can make it. But then that familiar voice comes creeping in, just one more year.
Just finish internship, then things will get better. So many older doctors say the same thing, just finish this year, it will be okay.
What people don’t tell you is that this phase of waiting to push through a year can seem to never end.
No end – the frustration
I finished internship on the Sunday, and started residency on the Monday. Yes, I had technically finished the first year but nothing had changed. I felt exactly the same and it was like every time before, finish one term and you start the next.
Now I am in the frustrating moment of being told the same thing “just finish this year”. Once you finish residency you can be eligible to become a specialist. This can range from the fastest program of general practice (2 more years), to longer ones such as cardio-thoracic surgery (about 10 years). I’m starting to wonder, when does it end?
Haven’t I been doing this dance for over eight years now? From 17 to 26 I have been just getting through the year. Today I saw a post by a doctor who has been working for 6 years and is halfway through a training program. She doesn’t want to do it anymore, and wants to quit. Her seniors are all telling her that this is a terrible idea, and that she should “just stay for another 2 and a half years and finish the program“.
The Hamster Wheel
This made me think that I am not alone in this feeling. Medicine is all about delayed gratification.
Once you embark onto the hamster wheel you suddenly forget you ever entered this wheel. You’re convinced you’ll make it to an end point, and rarely ever look to see the sides and what is around you. You’re focused on the next goal. Every goal is always a little further off in the distance, within sight.
Like that sneaky sports coach when you were in a high school athletics team – just one more kilometre, just make it to that pole over there. Did I say that pole? I mean that tree up ahead. Everything within reach, but always just out of grasp.
What happens when you finally make it to the “top”, and there is no where else you can go. Will you actually enjoy what you are doing or will you feel a sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness?
Scene from Scarface – 1983 American crime drama film directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone. Tony Montana has finally made it to the “top”. He is rich, has a beautiful wife, lives in a mansion and has the means he always dreamed of. Yet, he has realised that he isn’t happy. “Is this it?” he asks, “this what I work for?”. He was so focused on his goal of making it to this point, that he never enjoyed what was around him. On finally making it to his goal he remains unsatisfied.
The Future is an Illusion
The problem with always living hoping for better times to come, is that you miss a whole life in between. You aren’t focused on the present, the here and now. If you really think about it, all we truly have is today. To get mystical on you, tomorrow and yesterday don’t exist. A life spent thinking on your future goal can stop you from living your present day.
Medicine is the host who manages to keep you at their party hours after you first think about leaving. ‘Don’t go before we’ve cut the birthday cake…”
Then before you know it you’ve missed the last train back and you’re crashing on the sofa.
Having gone to medical school you might as well finish and become a house officer, then you might as well become an SHO, then you might as well become a registrar, then you might as well become a senior registrar and by then you’re practically a consultant…It’s the 50 pound note you chase down the street, swept up by another gust of wind the millisecond before your hand makes contact.adam kay – this is going to hurt
Think about it, what happens when you finally reach your goal? What happens when you become the specialist you dreamed to be? Will you be happy then? Maybe you will, I’m trying to figure out if that will be the case for me.
Do the ends justify the means?
Everyone’s time on Earth is limited, this is a fact. If you knew you had 6 months to live would you be doing what you’re doing now?
Once an elderly patient told me how he always saw men golfing, and dreamt of the day he could retire and golf on a Wednesday. He then told me “it’s bullshit. I retired and now my body can barely do anything, let alone play golf.”
It made me really think, deeply. Should I save up all the things I actually want to do for 40 years down the track? With the promise of good times, and retirement? What about now? What about the things around you this very second?
What do you truly want of life?
What do you truly want of life, and what can you do about it right now?
Feel free to send me a message if you feel the same.
Feature photo by Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash