Time doesn’t behave normally when you’re a doctor early in your career. Those first few years feel like forever. At first you feel like it will be cannulas forever, discharge summaries, reasoning with the enraged forever. Later you feel like it will be night shift forever, 15 hour shifts forever (although I’m pleased to report some states don’t have these!), trying to sort out the worlds problems and always feeling like your boss thinks you’re sub-par forever. Or like you’re never going to get through those exams kind of forever.
And then in a blink-or-you’ll-miss it kind of a way, forever is over. Suddenly you’re standing on the other side of the valley, looking at the mountain range you just crossed, dusting yourself off and wondering how you got here. How those thousands of hours, of paperwork, shit jobs, phone calls where people demean your knowledge, endless flash cards, late nights crying in the storage room while your friend pretends to be a clown to cheer you up (you know who you are), all ended up being worth it when you were never quite sure they would be.
Suddenly you’re on your ward round with your resident asking them to do something and they’re arguing with you, saying ‘we’ve always done it this way’ and you calmly explain the new evidence for doing it, so they do as you ask (suspiciously) and then your boss comes around, notices, and it’s all praise and ‘excellent work’. After years and years of not so excellent work. It’s a strange feeling, experience and knowledge and it’s so easy to get drunk on it. At the same time, that amazing post-exam knowledge seems to evaporate with every moment.
Four new hospitals this year. Four new commutes, teams, bosses, systems, all interstate from my training. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a scrambled egg at the best of times – but at work, all that endless time suffering through all that work pays off into good decision making.
We live in this strange world of ever hastening immediacy. The 24 hour news cycle, social media, everything delivered to you instantly, except the things you really need. Confidence, knowledge, these come through mastery. And mastery comes through endless drudgery, of showing up day after day and getting beaten over and over, but coming back and trying anyway. I can’t tell you how many times whilst studying for my exam, that everyone in the room knew more than me, or how many times I got the same questions wrong, or had a nap instead of study, fell way behind, and killed myself catching back up again. All those things, in a world that glosses over those things, are what brings mastery, and ultimately confidence. When I see a womens magazine article that says things like ‘the sexiest attribute is confidence!’ I shake my head. Confidence doesn’t come in multiple shades for $39.95 a pop. And by the time you’ve achieved it, sexiness is low down on your list of priorities.
Was it all worth it? Yes. No matter what it is you’re working towards, keep going. Keep going even when you wake up and aren’t top of things and know you’re going to do a terrible job that day. Keep going when the encouragement is lukewarm or absent. Keep going when the curveballs come your way. Don’t stop. The view from here is magnificent.