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To medical students and residents: It really does get better

By Trina E. Dorrah who is an internal medicine physician and the author of Physician’s Guide to Surviving CGCAHPS & HCAHPS.

I recently attended my 10-year medical school reunion class party, and I have to admit, I had a great time. From the beginning, my class was special. We had 104 amazing people who were truly inspired to make a difference.
However, regardless of how talented and hard working you are, medical school is one of the most challenging things you will ever do in your life. During our class party, we talked, laughed, reminisced, and caught up for hours. Many of us had not seen each other since graduation. The one thing that struck me was how incredibly happy everyone seemed. When I was in medical school, I frequently thought I’d made a terrible mistake by choosing medicine. When I talked to my classmates, I learned they often thought the same way. We all wanted to be doctors, but somewhere between anatomy and biochemistry, we wondered if we’d made the right choice.
For me, college was great and I made some amazing friends. However, I was the only one in my circle of friends who went to medical school. After we graduated, they moved on with their careers and nice paychecks followed. We were in our early twenties, and they were living it up. I, on the other hand, spent my days studying and stressing. I felt like I was in my own private hell that no one other than my medical school classmates could possibly understand. When I met doctors who were done with training, they would try to encourage me by telling me it would get better one day. Unfortunately, when you’re in the middle of the misery, it’s hard to believe that your situation will ever improve.
Fast forward 10 years, and I can honestly say life is great. Not only am I a practicing physician, but I really do love it. I am so thankful that I didn’t quit. As I caught up with my classmates at our reunion class party, I heard the same story again and again. Despite how difficult med school, residency, and fellowship were, everyone is genuinely happy. We are all grateful to be physicians, and we truly feel that we made the right career choice. Many of us have discovered other interests within medicine, so we no longer see patients full-time, and that’s OK. To be honest, when I was struggling with my career choice, I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me about all of the cool things I could do with a medical degree that don’t involve one-on-one patient interaction. When you think about it, even if you are a health care consultant, researcher, instructor, or administrator, you’re still using your degree to fulfill the ultimate goal we all had on our first day of medical school — to help people.
If you are reading this and you are a medical student, resident, or fellow who feels frustrated and burnt out and is questioning your decision to become a doctor, I have two words of advice: hang on. If you know someone who’s currently in this phase of life, send them this post as a way to encourage them. I know it is cliché to say it gets better, but it’s definitely true. The 60+ classmates of mine who came back for the reunion and are currently living their happily ever after can attest to that. The pain really is temporary.


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