Life as an attending physician has been everything I had hoped it would be. I’ve been out of residency a year so far and I am loving my job – the autonomy, the colleagues, the patients, the medicine. As always, there are some aspects that aren’t as pleasant to deal with such as scheduling, overnight calls and difficult patient encounters, but on a whole, post-residency life has been good. However, there is one thing I had as a resident that I don’t quite have yet as an attending and that’s clear career goals.
Let me explain. Throughout medical education, there was always a clearly defined goal : graduation. I was willing to put in the effort in mastering my craft because I knew one day I would have to use these skills to help others.
Ten years ago, when I first received my medical school admission letter, I experienced a mixture of joy and relief. The relief was mainly from not worrying about what my future trajectory would look like, I knew more or less my 20s would be spent in medical school and residency to become a doctor.
Having finished those grueling years, I look forward and realize my career in medicine will be many times longer than my training. This leads me to the question, what do I want my career to look like and how will I get there?
There are aspects that I’ve already defined and shaped, with which I am happy about. I am practicing the specialty of my choice (internal medicine). I work in a blended academic and community hospital, having plenty of contact with medical trainees while getting my hands messy with front line care. I am rewarded handsomely and will be financially secure.
Yet that same feeling of unease and uncertainty about the future that I felt as a pre-med, I feel now as an attending. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he argues that human motivation is largely intrinsic and consists of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The first two aspects come easily in my day to day job. I have lots of control over my clinical work, and there are lots of skills I am continuing to master. However, tt’s the last aspect a purpose, or being part of something bigger, which is on my mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I find a lot of gratification and purpose in my clinical work. I love making the right diagnosis and having the right knowledge and abilities to alleviate suffering. But what I want to know is can I do more, and if so, how can I use my unique abilities to do so?
In my clinical work, I can improve or save a life one at a time, but my time and abilities aren’t scaleable. Would I be satisfied with Talmud’s quote “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”, or do I believe I can affect more change.
Ultimately this is mixture of nervousness and excitement. No longer am I bound to a prescribed rigid timeline. I want my career to continue to evolve, what it will eventually look like, I’m not sure yet. But I know I would be extremely disappointed if the next ten years looked identical to my past year. I want to continue to grow, learn more and affect positive change. To keep pushing the boundary, and use my role as a doctor to be part of something bigger.
I have enjoyed reading your blog for sometime as a mother of a med school hopeful. I have supported her dream since she was in Grade 2 and am happy to report she is now in Year Two at an Ontario Medical School. Now, the worries are about electives selection, CArms matching, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in worry as a parent, especially with the current politics affecting physician’s salaries, but this post calmed my heart. It’s all going to work out and she’ll find the right fit for her and be able to pay back her student loans. Have you ever written a post about the effect of the medical school process on a parent? That might be interesting…
Internal med resident here. Came across your blog while trying to decide my subspecialty.
Would love to your thinking in choosing a subspecialty and the process.
PS You’re not alone! A friend of mine is in the same position (staff for the past year) and he feels similarly. He loves it, but wants to do more.
Super article, very inspiring, good luck in the new chapter.