I had been looking forward to the day I graduated residency for four years. I could not wait to feel the freedom of being an attending (at least that’s how I thought I would feel!), There were several days/weeks during residency that I was sure I would never make it. When the 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 to the day we are a “real doctor”. One that has completed residency and is board certified. I never gave any consideration to the 30 plus years of my life as an attending and what I wanted that 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, making me frustrated and unfulfilled. I had just spent 15 years of my life on this goal and I couldn’t enjoy it because of this nagging feeling that there must be something more out there for me to do. On top of that, imposter syndrome was rearing its ugly head and filling my mind with thoughts like “you don’t belong here” and “you’re not smart enough to be all on your own”.
Needless to say, the combination of frustration, lack of fulfillment and anxiety from imposter syndrome burned me out quickly. I felt stuck in my 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’s not to say that it’s easy, but we know what test to take and when; when applications are due and that we should try not to fail out of school/residency. Very few of us ever consider what we want our actual careers to be like because (sometimes) we doubt that we will even make it there. To make matters worse, we tend to lose ourselves along the journey because of lack of time, energy and sleep. We forget old habits and hobbies that used to bring us joy and instead focus on surviving to the next exam or rotation.
So 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 really 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’re like me, my goals for 12 years were just to pass a class, get a certain grade or get into a certain residency program. I never took time to create goals for myself. The most useful (but somewhat difficult) 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 is a combination of hocus pocus and hugely intimidating. However, once we recognize our one true motivator (our purpose), then 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’s time to give honest consideration to the 30 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 3 daughters. Her website is www.kristinyatesdo.com and she can be followed on Instagram @kristinyatesdo. Also be sure to check out her Podcast all about imposter syndrome in medicine (Imposter to Unstoppable) and her Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/clarityforwomen).