Every doctor knows the familiar feeling of studying for exams: that unique combination of cabin-fever (from staying home studying), stress (of juggling service requirements and calls, with family time and studying), the realisation of your inadequate knowledge and the “aah, I just don’t care anymore lah ” feeling.
Some months ago, in a fit of madness brought about by exam fever as I was preparing for the first of the exit components, I signed myself up for a half-marathon. I have no idea why; I can only plead temporary insanity. To give some context here, I am not the fittest person in the world – I enjoy some types of sport (preferably non-sweaty, non-cardio) and I hate running. In fact, one of my friends told me last year that “my grandmother runs faster than you ”. As soon as the exams were over I regained my senses and was properly horrified at what I had done, but resigned myself to my fate and reluctantly drew up a training plan as the race day drew closer.
As a non-runner running my first half-marathon, I can’t help but be struck by the similarities between my Residency journey and my running experience. As such, I present to you now the psychological journey of a Resident, juxtaposed against the journey of a noob’s first half-marathon:
The funny thing is, while you run there is a lot of time to think. Especially if you are running 10km or more, that’s an hour or so (I am a slow runner) where there is nothing but the sound of your breathing and your feet hitting the road – that’s a lot of time to think about things, things like “Why am I where I am? ”.
I love my job. If I had to do my life over again, I would choose Ophthalmology every time – I love the way a simple surgery like cataract surgery restores vision and quality of life, I love how visual the specialty is – most of the time we can literally see what is wrong with the eye. I don’t know if the eyes are the window to the soul – I can’t tell if you’re a good or bad person just from my examination alone (although one of our professors can tell which side you sleep on based on how the inflammatory cells have settled in your eye), but sometimes in the midst of a busy clinic, I get a rare glimpse into a stranger’s life, into their emotions, their struggle and their desires – like when my diabetic patient confessed her struggles with eating on time while working as a security officer, or when another patient confided that his son goes on trial tomorrow, and may go to jail. These glimpses are precious and remind me that it is a privilege to be able to do what we do, to meet strangers and touch their lives and hear their stories.
Of course, I have had my ups and downs and my moments of self-doubt along the way. To my juniors who are beginning their Residency journey, full of excitement and/or trepidation, or to those who are hitting the halfway mark and struggling to carry on (I remember the pre-MMed days very clearly) – take heart. Take it from a senior, things get better. Even now as I am entering the pre-exit phase and it feels like I have been studying forever and good sleep and leisure activities are distant memories – this half-marathon experience has taught me that even this difficult phase will be over eventually. We just need to remember why we began this journey, have faith and keep on running.
— Dean Karnazes
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