Dear Dr. Goodhook,
I’ll be graduating from residency before I know it, and to be honest, I’m incredibly nervous. I feel like my life has had a very clear trajectory up until this point. I graduated from high school and college with flying colors, then went on to perform well in medical school. I’ve also been quite successful during my residency, and am already networking with potential employers.
My unease isn’t about finding a job… I know I will. I guess it has to do with the fact that I’ll finally be in the “real world.” I’ll no longer have attendings — there’s a strong chance that I’ll become an attending. I feel like I’ll be under much more scrutiny, and worry that if I mess up, there will be devastating consequences. So much will depend on me, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Do you have any advice for a young physician making the transition into the first job of his doctor career?
Nervous in North Carolina
Ah, the great leap into practice! I remember it well. During the early weeks at my first job, I paced the halls, trembling like an epileptic colt. It wasn’t until a good fortnight later that I regained my footing and resumed the confident stride that has carried me throughout the rest of my doctor career.
Transitioning from residency to practice is quite a difficult feat. No matter what measures you take to prepare yourself, there will always be a vague sense of unease nipping at your heels. Trust me when I say that unease will not subside until you’ve worked for at least a month — plain and simply, it’s the fear of the unknown.
However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be crippled by emotional agony until you find your first job. I have several old tricks for this ailment, but they require hearty amounts of self-discipline and a commitment to changing your thoughts. Without further ado, here they are:
Perfectionism is the Enemy of Your Doctor Career
In your letter, you stated, “I feel like I’ll be under much more scrutiny, and worry that if I mess up, there will be devastating consequences. So much will depend on me, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
That, young physician, is a perfectionist’s attitude, and it’s a nasty thing to have. Fear not; most doctors are cursed with it, and you are yet another statistic. Perfectionism is something you can learn to be at peace with and overcome, however. We are human, and therefore imperfect. Doctors are homosapiens, just like their patients, and come with all of the same mental, physical and spiritual ailments. Be kind to yourself, and don’t curse your existence for any mistake you might make.
Accept change and transition as a part of life. When you graduate from residency, you will no longer be sheltered by the environment of education, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in fear. Don’t start your first job with the idea that you have to be perfect and get everything 100 percent right. That leads me to my next point…
Your Doctor Career is an Opportunity for Lifelong Learning
Medical students and residents seem to have this funny belief that when they graduate, they’ll be all on their own. They’ll have learned everything they need to know, and going forward, their main challenge will be learning how to put their knowledge to work.
Young resident, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Though your “formal” education may indeed end when you graduate from residency, you’ll soon learn that the “real world” provides equally worthy knowledge. Stop thinking of your graduation in such black and white terms. Learning does not cease when you graduate. Even when you’re an old curmudgeon like myself, you will constantly be adapting to change and innovation.
Finally, never stop learning from others. Be humble. If you don’t know something, ask. Learn from your nurses, your colleagues and your patients. Though you certainly deserve your title, don’t let the “Dr.” in front of your name cloud your human side. Treat others with respect and consideration, and you’ll enjoy a much more fruitful and productive doctor career.
What makes you most nervous about graduating from residency and your future doctor career?
Doctor Career: Sponsors
Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Guthrie Clinic supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Guthrie Clinic is making practice purposeful.