Resident Graduation: Congratulations and Remember to Have a Life

As resident graduation approaches, I’m more conscious of my place in my career. I catch myself sending them home earlier when I’m on weekend call, and doing a few notes for them when they’re in class.

I hope they don’t take it wrong when I do these things. I just don’t know how else I can help them avoid a career of over-devotion to work. I just want them to have a life.

The pressures of being a doctor include overburdened schedules and senseless regulatory capture that can blur the boundaries between work and family life.

Maybe some physicians work so hard because of the rare but extraordinary pressures. I remember feeling obligated to be my brother’s doctor many years ago when he was hospitalized with delirium. How could I do that unless I adopted a fierce devotion to duty on the job? I didn’t insist on doing it; in fact I tried to get other colleagues to cover for me.

I was told it was actually not inappropriate to act as my brother’s physician. It troubled me, but I chose not to argue.

Some physicians want to act as doctors for their own families, prescribe for them and more. All I know is that I’d have given anything not to have been placed in that position.

And the other side of that is missing important events, like the funeral for my father. It was easier to do that because I was an extremely busy doctor.

Sometimes almost a year will pass in between vacations. Lately, I’ve been pulling duty which covers all the weekdays and all the weekends. I have lately been told that this is “not sustainable.” Yet I’ve been doing this for 18 years.

And I’m not the only one.

So if I talk too much in the interviews with patients and seem not to let trainees get their chance, and if I send them home early and see some patients myself, it isn’t because I think they’re incapable of handling clinical work. In fact, most of the time I know they could do an outstanding job.

And it isn’t because I don’t want them around. I don’t think they slow me down.

It’s because I have this odd way of conveying that I want them to remember they have lives of their own.

That’s what I want them to think about at graduation and beyond.




  1. Jim,

    At this point in my career, I have concluded that in order to have a life separate from medicine you need to be a lot brighter and a lot more self actualized than I am. I occasionally fantasize about how it would have gone in another profession like electrical engineering. There is always a question about whether your neurosis would allow you to be less compulsive in another line of work. But as a physician you invariably get to the point where it is pretty clear that you have spent a lot of time taking care of other people and their families and how that can ever balance against the time devoted to your own.

    From what I can see – lifestyle/work balance is pretty much a myth unless you are self employed and have enough resources so you are not working 100 hours per week.


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