When I was in medical school and considering my specialty, someone said to me: “You can train anyone to be a good obgyn. What you can’t do is train someone to be a caring, kind, and compassionate human being. People will see that about you and above all, that will stand out.”
Last week I had coffee with one of my current preceptors. This man interviewed me when I applied to residency. When I was accepted into this program, he told me that I was his favourite applicant that he’s ever interviewed. He said I had a passion for life and a light about me that made him know instantly that I would make a great obgyn. At our little coffee date last week he said to me: “Aggie, I have noticed that you are not the same person today that you were when I interviewed you. I am so disheartened to see that our program has stripped away the best parts of you in an attempt to make you a good surgeon. I don’t know why we do this to our residents.” He continued, “I just wanted to tell you to not let residency win. This is finite and when it is over, I hope that you will go back to being that person I remember from your interview.”
Both of these people, people I’ve respected and considered mentors, have spoken such true yet conflicting statements. In training to become the type of physician I want to be, I have lost the aspects of myself that would make me the kind, caring, and compassionate physician I imagined becoming. Within this paradox lies my problem. Can I ever come back from this? Do I turn around now and work on nurturing myself back into the person I used to be, or do I risk continuing down this path I’m on and perhaps never recovering what I’ve lost?
Is there a right answer?
After almost 6 years as a learner in Medicine, I have received my first failure.
A few weeks ago I wrote a surgical theory exam. This exam was annoying and difficult both to wrap my mind around as well as to study for. The exam is not designed for Obstetrics and Gynecology residents, but in an attempt to align us more with other surgical specialties, our program enrols us in the program for this exam. Since it’s not designed for us, it’s difficult to study and prepare for, and since it’s not required that we actually pass the exam, our program doesn’t make a huge effort to help us adequately prepare for it. Regardless, we all want to pass and most people do.
Except me. I got my results today, and I was “unsuccessful.”
I have had failures in my life – some bigger and more consequential. However, this is the first time I’ve failed at something in Medicine.
Why should I care that I failed an exam that I didn’t even need to pass? I made a decision to prioritize my family and my health in this pregnancy over preparing well for this exam. Regardless, I did spend some time studying… And I think I hoped to actually pass.
For my entire medical training I have maintained that I can do this “Mommy in Medicine” thing well. I struggled endlessly with feelings of guilt that I was only ever a mediocre mom and a mediocre medical student/resident because each role was competing with the other. Up until now, my kids have survived and have done okay, and I’ve always done okay in my assessments and very well in my clinical evaluations: there has never been a reason for me to believe that something was really suffering. Until now, that is.
Now I am weeks away from having my third baby, all under this illusion that I can do it all. But maybe I can’t, and I find that reality upsetting and worrisome. Life is only going to become more difficult with anther child and the increasing demands of my training program.
My confidence is shaken and I’m just not sure I can pull this off anymore.