The first year of residency can easily become all-consuming and demanding of all your time, emotions, energy and efforts. Somewhere in between the expectations of being a good resident, a safe clinician, a lifelong learner and many other roles, I found myself forgetting who I was outside of being a ‘resident’. My life was compartmentalised into scheduled ‘blocks’. Happiness and sadness became associated with successes and failures in my resident role. Time on vacation was time to catch up with emails, research, academic meetings. I found myself having little emotional and physical energy to give to my other roles – mom, wife, friend, artist, foodie – things which previously were my source of joy and fulfillment.
On my last block in first year, I sat through a serious illness conversation with a patient’s family, hearing as they spoke with love about their mom/grandmother and the fulfilling life she had spent showering her family with love, who now felt indebted to her as she spent the last days of her life. I found myself feeling lost and sad. It reminded me of my grandmother who had passed away a few months prior, after battling cancer for five years and whom I had not ‘made the time’ to see for the last five years because I was waiting to do it when life was easier, less complicated.
As second-year rolled to a start, I took a vacation block and took time to fly home, spend time with the people who make me ‘ME’, eat the foods that make me nostalgic, watch the shows that make my sides hurt, cook my son’s favourite foods, go on date nights with my husband… I found myself again and it is liberating. I find myself being a more effective clinician, a kinder soul to my patients and to my support system at home, a happier colleague and friend. I didn’t even know I was not myself this whole time, till I found myself again!
The work we do is very high stakes and while it is great to be passionate, it is equally important to disconnect when you get the chance to. No one should feel guilty to take off their white coat and stop being a resident when away from work. Be who you were when you were not a resident, the version of you which you love! Go eat, sleep, hike, hang out with friends, fly to your best friend’s wedding, take a trip to that place you’ve wanted to see or… go exercise, which I will admit I have still not done and I definitely can’t blame my resident schedule for that one.