What Doctors
Would Tell Their
21 Year Old Selves

You’ve heard the phrase, “I wish I knew then what I know now.”

Think back to when you were 21 years old. Were you in college? Med school? Working at the donut shop in the summer to save money for school?

Maybe you had an entirely different, non-medical gig. Maybe you were the drummer in a band. A gymnast. A backpacker through Europe trying to “find yourself.”

Maybe you were already on your way to being a grown-up. You may have already married, perhaps even had a child and worked two jobs to get ahead.

Whatever you were involved with back then, wouldn’t it have been awesome to have your current self share some wisdom?

In these days of changing medicine and burned-out doctors, I’m on a mission to find out what those doctors who still love medicine do differently. So, I asked this question of doctors I interviewed in the hopes of helping young students, doctors in training, and the nine out of ten doctors who say they would not recommend our profession to others.

These are doctors who eat their lunch standing up in between surgical cases, doctors who relay messages to their spouses about missed dinner dates through the nurse in the O.R., doctors who, on the surface, seem to have done everything right and have it all together.

What they said is good advice to us all:

Take better care of yourself. Rest more. Eat better. Stay active.

Some doctors said they would give their younger selves messages of encouragement: that it was all going to be okay, that they should slow down, that they should simply breathe. Life, they would tell their younger selves, is not a race.

Other doctors offered the opposite advice: that they should live it up, grab the brass ring while they can. Carpe diem. Life is short.

After looking over all their advice, here are the nuggets I want to share, the things I wish I knew at 21:

Your 21-year-old self is looking forward today, waiting for wisdom.

What would you say?

CATEGORIES: Blog on October 13, 2014 by Starla Fitch, M.D.

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2 thoughts on “What Doctors
Would Tell Their
21 Year Old Selves

  1. Pam Pappas

    Great post as always, Dr. Starla. I remember some very dignified faculty during medical school, who always took the time to invite us students to dinner at their homes at least once while on rotation. These were always genteel men whose wives were at home preparing lovely, delicious meals while their physician husbands were working in the hospital or office. It was always a pleasure to visit them and see how they lived. Yet, I wondered how I would ever manage this same kind of generosity — given that I didn’t have a wife taking care of things at home. So I would tell my 21 year-old-self that maintaining one’s home as a place of refuge and enjoyment is essential — and that hiring a reliable housekeeper (who can sometimes fill in as cook when needed!) is a great investment in sanity. In fact, I believe I’ll tell myself that now. 🙂

    Do keep writing your wisdom!

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Dear Dr. Pam,

      I couldn’t agree more with your wisdom on allowing yourself the luxury of a clean home and decent food at the end of a busy day in medicine. If you’re at all like me, you made trips to the local discount store during med school and residency to stock up on things like Ramen noodles and cheap underwear, so at least you’d have the basics. 🙂 It’s time we remembered how wise we really can be.


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