Clinical, Featured, Intern Year, OB/GYN
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Perfection, Community, Gratitude: What Residency Has Taught Me So Far

The following manuscript was submitted to the March 2017 s/p The Match — One Year Later Themed Writing Contest.

March 18, 2016. I had been anticipating this day for months and I could not believe that it had finally arrived. I woke up that morning, sat on my couch, and began to journal as I do pretty much every day. As I sat reflecting on all of the hard work that I had done to get to this point, tears began to fall down my face. Twenty-six years of hard work had finally come to fruition. Contemplating the support from friends and family over the years brought tears to my eyes a second time.

That morning, I decided to write a letter to my future self. I planned to read it on the toughest of days, as a way to remember the anticipation I felt on Match Day.

Fast forward a few hours, I can still feel the churning in the pit of my stomach as I stood among the cattle herd, waiting for the countdown to hit zero so that we could rush the table and grab the letter that contained where we would be spending the next few years of our lives. As the 10 second countdown began, I could no longer hold back my tears. I had made it! I had matched! And I was seconds away from knowing exactly where. I began crying tears of joy as I discovered that I would be staying at Emory for my residency in obstetrics and gynecology.

That day was nearly 11 months ago. I am not the same person that I was when sat down to journal on March 18, 2016. I have learned so much about myself, medicine, and life in general. Residency is hard and has its ups and downs. Taking time to reflect is crucial to personal growth and development.  Here are the top three things I have learned so far during my intern year:

  1. I cannot expect to be perfect. Ever. I do not like doing things that I am not good at or do not have a reasonable chance of being good at. If I am going to do something, I want to do it well. The problem with that mindset, though, is that there are very few things that one can do proficiently at the beginning of intern year. I would feel like a failure anytime a delivery went differently than expected or if I missed something in a patient’s case that my upper level caught. I was not used to feeling like I was not doing anything well. It’s taken multiple conversations with senior residents and a lot of self-encouragement to reassure myself that I cannot expect to be perfect on the first day of residency nor can I expect to be perfect on the last day of residency. As someone who is used to achieving success, my expectations of myself were far too high for intern year. The thing is that there will always be more to learn. There will always be ways to become more efficient. There will always be ways to hone my skills. I had to let go of unrealistic expectations and be okay knowing that with time and practice, I will improve as long as I am putting in the work. I am not the same doctor that I was on July 1, 2016. But I am also still not the doctor I hope to be on June 30, 2020. The only way to get there is with hard work.
  2. Community is key. Residency is hard. And you cannot survive it without the support of others. It is important to nurture and maintain relationships with people both inside and outside of medicine who can provide perspective in moments when you are struggling. My eight other co-interns are the only people on this planet who can understand what I am going through at this moment. We need each other. We need to vent to each other. We need to share triumphs and tragedies with each other. We need to just spend time hanging out and laughing with each other. But equally important are the friends and family outside of residency. They help me hold onto the pieces of who I was before I started residency. They distract me when I need to do something or be around people who have nothing to do with residency. I cannot count the times that their encouragement has been what I needed to push through a difficult outcome or fight through fatigue. At the end of the day, no one can survive this journey alone. Investing in community is a key component in not only surviving, but thriving during residency.
  3. Be grateful and enjoy the ride. Some days are better than others, but I really do enjoy what I do. Most days, I’m truly grateful to be a women’s healthcare provider. But it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’ve worked 10 days in a row. Or when you’re getting slammed with consults. Or when you feel like nothing is going right. At the end of the day, I have the privilege of taking care of women every day. I get to spend time with them during some of the most important moments in their lives. On top that, I get to learn something new every day, to see and do incredible things all the time. One thing I try to do, albeit inconsistently, is to sit and think of all the things from that day I am grateful for. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the letter to myself on the morning of Match Day. I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I have had to read it yet. Practicing consistent gratitude has been enough to carry me through the dark stretches.

Everyone’s residency experience will be different. Your top three lessons will probably be different from mine. But taking the time to sit down and reflect on your experience is crucial. Match Day will be one of the most exciting days of your life. Enjoy it and be grateful, even if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you would hope. And on July 1, be ready to hit the ground running. It’s a bumpy ride, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Image creditPen and Paper by Dinuraj K licensed under CC BY 2.0.

D. Kesley Robertson, MD D. Kesley Robertson, MD (1 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Writer

Emory University School of Medicine

D. Kesley Robertson is a resident in Gynecology & Obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine. He is originally from Germantown, MD and enjoys football, spending time with friends and family, and trying new restaurants.