One year ago I called my sister, panicked. What was I doing in this job? Was it me? What if I’d made a terrible mistake? Half the time I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and everyone, nurses, patients, randoms in the corridors, looked at me as if I did. The first thing my sister did was laugh. The second thing she did was to tell me that the only way ever of us overcome this sort work-anxiety was through mastery. I had no idea what she meant.
One year on, I’m coming to the end of residency. I’ve stumbled my way through a strange maze of paperwork, endless needles, strange situations that belong only inside the hospital walls, and the darkest of humour that gets you through the night. I’ve jumped on chests, I’ve tried and failed, I’ve grown ever more comfortable with my flaws, my work mistakes. I watch my own emotions come and go from a distance now, I’ve stopped reacting to the things I see, more importantly I’ve stopped reacting to myself. The anxiety I felt as a green intern a year ago has been replaced with a quiet place, where my own failures equalise with my successes, where every moment stops being an absolute, and instead just flows on. I’m inching slowly toward being the doctor I want to be. That kind and patient one, who seems like they’ve given you all the time in the world, and when you leave not long past, can’t believe how little time has elapsed. The one who dispels your fears with a solid body of knowledge and the easy language that allows you to understand clearly what’s happening. The one who understands that no one, not you nor herself is perfect, that we’re all on our own path (and the sooner we stop beating ourselves for being where we are in life’s great, dizzyingly complicated lottery, the better!)
I’m by no means a master of anything (maybe a well written discharge letter!) but I can tell you, just one year on, that the cushion of experience has provided some relief, and more importantly, courage. And I want to thank you all for your comments over the past year, I can’t tell you how helpful they are. I probably came into this job with more than my fair share of self doubt, and the words of encouragement along the way have kept the flame alive.
A couple of months ago, wracked with fear and dread, I took a step forward, I threw my hat into the ring for basic physician training in spite of all those ‘you’re not good enough’ thoughts. The point is that you don’t know, you really don’t know anything in this life unless you just try, even if it makes you feel sick and like you want to run a mile. That feeling has passed now, I’ll give it everything I have and then some. I’m hounding the registrars in the hospital asking them what they did, didn’t do, wished they have done. I’m reading all I can about test anxiety, adult learning, test taking, test strategy. I’m completely reinventing the way I learn. Summarising textbooks as an adult does not work for me.
As a doctor, you quickly learn to get comfortable with failure. People still die in spite of everyone’s best efforts. We still make mistakes in spite of thinking we’ve got something in the bag, medical students show us up. Failure like anything else is transient and relative. For everything you think you’ve lost, you’ve always gained something else, and should I fail, I can’t really fault getting a couple of years of high quality education and experience out of it, no matter where I land in the end.