Updated: Jan 7, 2020
This is a question that I am often asked by family members, close friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Such a simple-crafted question begs a much more loaded response that stirs up all kinds of emotions.
To put things in context, residency is the next step in training after medical school in order to become a board-certified physician in whichever specialty one has applied for. Residency is what every single medical student thinks about from the moment they put on that short white coat. It is the motivation that justifies all the sleepless nights, the rain checks on missed dinners and hangouts, and definitely the justification for the infamous “pimping” during rounds (a politically incorrect term used loosely in medicine that refers to the attending physician firing off questions to the learner in front of his or her peers (and sometimes patients!) that we often don’t know the answers to). We put our head down and trudge forward while suppressing our emotions so that we don't appear weak or give off the impression that we don't want "it" enough. We pushed ourselves to the brink to make it to this step. But now that I am on that step, I look back and question why it is that we all adopted this mindset to achieve something that we think will bring us happiness.
Beyond the cliche “I want to help people” proclamation that drove most of us into this specific career, there are a plethora of other subliminal reasons that people pursue medicine. Maybe it’s because they were always the smartest in their class and craved a lifelong career of intellectual stimulation, or their parents were physicians and so this path was already paved for them, or whether it was a way to obtain financial security for their family. Whatever the motivation, we all go through the same grind that is board exams, clinical rotations, and the uncanny art of impressing those who evaluate us. Most saw these barriers as necessary hoops to jump through, or simply a means to an end. Some expressed frustration about how their pursuit of medicine coerced them into adopting a mindset of “delayed gratification,” cultivating feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) when they saw their friends have normal 9-to-5 jobs living [their] best life through Instagram posts of extravagant vacations and fancy dinners. Ultimately, most of us felt the struggle would be worth it when we finally landed our dream job and grasp that elusive happiness we’ve been longing for.
This brings me to my next point; if you don’t appreciate the journey and all the ups and downs that come with it, why would you enjoy the "end reward”? For what satisfaction is there in being handed something without actually putting in the blood, sweat, and tears to earn it? Akin to playing those classic video games (shout-out to the original PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast) where there was always a “boss” or some seemingly insurmountable monster that stood between you and the next stage, you try so hard to win, often to the point of chafing your fingers on the controller. Time and time again, you falter and can’t quite figure out how to succeed. But finally, your persistence pays off and you beat the game! You are overcome with joy and pat yourself on the back. And then suddenly, you ask yourself, “OK, what’s next?”
As with anything else in life, when you finally get that job promotion, sports car, girl/guy of your dreams, or whatever, does life magically finish and you beat the game? Of course not. In the famous words of rapper Tupac Shakur, life goes on. Each accomplishment or setback we experience is just a small blip in a very long, winding journey we all find ourselves on. With that in mind, whatever it is that you do, find meaning in what you are doing. If what you are doing is just a way to get that next big thing, then maybe it’s time to take a step back and reexamine what you believe your purpose is. At the end of the day, YOU are unique and God has blessed YOU with specific gifts; it is up to you to utilize them for His purpose. Louie Giglio from Passion City Church in Atlanta states, “Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus and make Him known to the world.” So whether you are a student, CEO of a fortune 500 company, barista, or janitor, all that matters is that you find purpose through your work to touch as many lives as possible, for God can use the unlikeliest members of society (ie. fishermen, tax collectors) to become pillars of his Kingdom.
To answer the aforementioned question, residency has been more than what I could have ever asked for. Despite the insane work hours, flip-flopping between day and night shifts, and steep learning curve of intern year, I find myself so incredibly blessed to be in this position, where I am able to use my strengths to serve the Lord one patient at a time, while having some fun along the way.