Thursday, January 24, 2008


Over coffee and our latest boyfriends of the past six weeks (a.k.a. Harrison), my batchmate Vicvic and I shared one sordid little secret we were surprised we had in common.

We actually miss PGH.

For three years, we had resented being so firmly shackled to the wards and not being able to go where we wanted when we wanted to, like other people our age were doing. We professed hating the long, long hours we worked - with no overtime pay, mind you - and the weight of being overused and unappreciated. We were stumped by frustration at every turn - with the incredibly red-tape laden system, with the patients we couldn't save for lack of money and resources, with ourselves for not learning what we had to do well enough or fast enough. We felt trapped in a world that had become exceedingly small, mostly revolving around our lives in the hospital and the pitifully all-to-fleeting times we could spend away from it.

But now, after over a month of relative freedom and idleness (our coming exam hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles notwithstanding), we are actually missing that cesspool of misery we used to work in.

I can't speak for Vicvic, but I know I miss it not just because I miss the people I used to work with. I actually miss... the work itself. I miss being a resident.

I miss waking up in the morning and knowing exactly what I am going to be doing with my day. I miss working in a place where I learn something new everyday, and am taught just as much by my patients and my clerks and interns as my consultants and fellow trainees.

I miss working in a job where the framework routine does not mean each day is going to be exactly the same. I miss the energy of the hospital, the adrenalin rush it gives me when I meet up with unexpected toxicity. I miss the intellectual challenge of a new case, the exhilaration of being able to confirm you got it right and being able to do something about it. I miss the sincere, uncomplicated appreciation of patients I handle and am able to send home better.

No, I haven't suddenly forgotten the frustrations, the heartaches, and the hardships of residency training and am now looking back at it with rose-colored glasses. I guess this distance from it has allowed me to realize that despite everything, I had made the right decision to go into residency training.

Regardless of where my meandering journey will take me, I definitely do not regret the three years I have spent with the department. Maybe there have been opportunities I missed along the way, but all the experiences I have had as a resident have made up for it many times over.

* * * *

One of my lawyer friends dropped by where I was studying last night to see me, and we swapped notes about our respective crossroads. She's also in a middle-of-nowhere stage in her life. After 3 years in a firm she has worked in since passing the bar, she has made the decision to resign to pursue other things. She's thinking of taking the New York Bar, maybe getting a Masters degree in the US... or even maybe starting her own business.

We laughed because that non-plan sounded a lot like the non-plan I've been throwing around in my head for the past year... and, as such, it doesn't seem to show any sign of crystallizing anytime soon.

She says she counts herself lucky to be in a career where her future can be whatever she wants it to be. She can be a lawyer in government, work in a big firm, put up her own firm, go corporate, teach... the possibilities seem to be endless. A doctor, on the other hand... options tend to be rather limited.

I don't think that's necessarily true. There are doctors who are not practicing being doctors but are doing work in policy-making, in the pharmaceutical industry, research, serving in government, even doctors who are lawyers. Limits to what each of us can do only exist in our minds, and in the end it all boils down to what captured our imagination.

One thing I've realized, though, is that in the process of becoming clinicians, those of us who choose this path actually become defined by our work more than we realize. Maybe it's because so much of our training is so intricately woven into our lives that much of the people we have become are inexorably bound to that experience.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a travel writer... a singer... at one time, I even toyed around with the idea of being a lawyer (another long story for another time). I've envied my friends who went straight to work instead of more school and are now high up the corporate ladder and are starting their own lives.

I guess a part of me will always want those things and re-visit those what-if's every now and then. Maybe I might even pursue those other things on the side, since I love them so much. But there's one thing now I know to be true, something I probably knew before but have forgotten in all the noise.

I actually like being a doctor.


Manggy said...

Dear Dr. Claire,


Stockholm Syndrome.

Kidding! I think once you are practicing again, you will feel that groove you've missed. Describing the things you missed, it doesn't sound like you missed PGH at all... It sounds like you missed your old role.

dr_clairebear said...

hmmmm... you know, you may be right. :) one thing i will miss about working in a hospital like pgh, though, is the fact that it is a training hospital. i think that counts for a lot.