You start your day with the best intentions.
You wake up with a strong sense of purpose, full of optimism.
On the drive to work, you re-center yourself as you weave through traffic. You shake off the bad drivers around you, the honking truck at the stop light, the spilled coffee as you hit the brakes when another car darts out in front of you without a signal.
You are determined that today will be different.
Then, you get to your office, and reality hovers over your head like a storm cloud. You remember why it’s so hard to hold on to the positive intention you set.
As you glance over your appointments, you notice your secretary has had another moment of spontaneous wackiness. This time, she scheduled a 30-minute gap in the middle of the morning, followed by double and triple-bookings on complicated follow-up visits with patients.
You mentally shake your head. The guru on your shoulder nudges you, reminding you of your morning thoughts of purpose and intention, but now they seem like clouds, slowly floating away.
Think back to your days as a starry-eyed med student. What would that optimistic dreamer think about how your typical workday unfolds?
I doubt the real world matches the ideals you once imagined.
When I was a med student knee deep in scut work, searching for lab results for patients on rounds, reading about the mechanisms of action of a variety of drugs, my visions of the future were a cross between Joan of Arc and a bad TV medical drama.
I pictured a well groomed, well rested, well fed, perky me with the stethoscope flung jauntily around my shoulders, wearing a crisp, white, neatly pressed lab coat.
I imaged myself cradling patients’ charts as my brilliant mind formulated a perfect treatment to help patients feel physically well and motivated to maintain a regimen of radical self-care.
I pictured light bulbs popping over each patient’s head after I reviewed my treatment plans. And my patients would be relieved and almost giddy with the new, mind blowing, cutting-edge healthcare I delivered to them.
Ahhhh, those were the days. I miss those perfect, imaginary days. But, real life set in and pushed them out of the way.
What is real life for a seasoned doctor like?
- Real life is examining a lesion a patient has had for months (although they claim it has only been there a week – – really?) and knowing that it is something serious.
- Real life is finding the right words to quickly, succinctly explain an illness to the patient, without them breaking down, adopting a denial attitude or tuning out totally to the plan of action.
- Real life is walking into each patient’s room, knowing you have less than 30 seconds to regroup from the last patient’s questions, while ignoring the annoying urge to take a personal “bio break,” drink a sip of water or eat a bite of a bagel.
- Real life is realizing that you will get no breaks for at least four hours.
- Real life is hearing that wise inner voice that says, ”Do as I say, not as I do,” when you talk to patients about drinking more water, getting more sleep, exercising daily, and focusing on better nutrition.
- Real life is eating a power bar in the car on your way to the hospital, wishing you had remembered to bring a bottle of water to wash it down.
- Real life is looking up and remembering it is your mom’s birthday, and noticing it is too late to call her because you are still at the hospital and she is sound asleep.
To be real, real life is nothing at all what most of us expected as fresh-faced med students.
The challenge is to turn our real life into something that is really good.