I remember looking forward to the day I graduated from residency for four years. I thought that I could not wait to feel the freedom of being an attending. There were several days and weeks during residency that I was sure I would never make it. When graduation day finally came, my excitement was out of this world.

Once we decide to start the long journey to becoming a physician, we set our sights on the day we are a “real doctor”one that has completed residency and is board certified. I never considered the thirty-plus years of my life as an attending physician and what I wanted those years to look and feel like. Interestingly, not one of my mentors ever recommended that I consider my life after residency either.

After the initial excitement of being an attending wore off, I was left feeling stuck and overwhelmingly anxious. The question “now what?” kept creeping in. I felt frustrated and unfulfilled. I had just spent fifteen years of my life to achieve this goal, and I could not enjoy it because of a nagging feeling that there must be something more out there for me to do. On top of that, imposter syndrome reared its ugly head and filled my mind with thoughts like “you don’t belong here” and “you’re not smart enough to be all on your own.”

The combination of frustration, lack of fulfillment, and anxiety from imposter syndrome burned me out quickly. I felt stuck in the job that I worked so hard for. I wanted a way out.

Why does this happen?

When we decide to become a physician, the path is neatly laid out in front of us. That is not to say that it is easy, but we know what tests to take and when.  We know when applications are due and that we should not fail out of school/residency. Very few of us ever consider what we want our actual careers to be like because we sometimes doubt that we will even make it there.  To make matters worse, we tend to lose ourselves along the journey because of a lack of time, energy, and sleep. We forget old habits and hobbies that used to bring us joy and instead focus on surviving the next exam or rotation.

What can we do to interrupt this cycle? 

We need to deal with this feeling of being “stuck” head-on and start creating a sustainable career.  The first step is giving yourself time to consider what you want in your life. What are your short and long-term goals? 

If you are not sure what your goals are, you are not alone. If you are like me, my goals for twelve years were to pass a class, get a particular grade and get into a specific residency program. I never took the time to create goals for myself.  The most useful, though complicated, question to consider is: what is your purpose?  What is the reason you were put on this earth? So few of us ever consider this question because it can be hugely intimidating. However, once we recognize our one true motivator and our purpose, our goals become crystal clear. 

When we set a goal, we can wake up every day and know exactly what we are working towards and want to accomplish. Living with intention is what will bring fulfillment. Being honest about what we want in life creates genuine career satisfaction. Becoming an attending is the springboard to the rest of our lives, not the endpoint. It is time to give honest consideration to the average thirty years beyond residency so that we can actively cultivate the medical career we want. Only then will we have a sustainable and fulfilling career in medicine.

Kristin Yates DO is an Ob/Gyn passionate about helping women overcome imposter syndrome. She also enjoys reading, riding her Peloton and spending time with her husband and three daughters. Her website is www.kristinyatesdo.com and she can be followed on Instagram @kristinyatesdo.

More than half of women physicians are feeling burnout right now and we want to help you discover what’s at the heart of it. Take our brand new Quiz to help you discover the root cause of burnout for you and what to do about it!