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On the Side - May 2015

Stepping In, Stepping Out
by Sharon Chatwell

This spring Medical Students from all over the country “matched” with the Residency Programs they’ll be attending for the next few years. This magical process, perfected over time, and overseen by unseen and virtually unknown forces, has become an expected event in the lives of 4th Years everywhere.  It’s usually an exciting and liberating experience; although it can be equally nerve-racking as well.

Soon, the newly matched students begin planning and preparing for their big move, which often takes them and their families to new cities and unknown locations.  This move is anticipated and can be prepared for in advance, but there is nothing that can prepare you for the move you make from student to doctor.

You think you’ve done it when you walk across that stage at Graduation.  Someone hands you a diploma, something you’ve been striving towards for years, calls you “Doctor” and you think you’ve arrived.  Or, you get those long-awaited test results back and find out that you actually passed your boards, and then you begin to see yourself as a doctor.  You may even start signing new initials after your name.

But on that first day of residency, when you walk in to your first patient’s room and you realize that you can write orders that may mean life or death for your brand new patient; that is a transition for which nothing can prepare you.

Any staff person in any teaching hospital can tell you that July 1st is the worst day to be a patient on any given year.  This is, of course, because a whole new crop of doctors has just arrived and is now populating the first year slots in the various residency programs. Staff members usually pay very close attention to orders written in those first few weeks and months of residency, and for good reason. Occasionally they will find an order that seems a bit off and ask for “clarification” before actually carrying it out; thank goodness!

Many new residents have been wisely advised by their supervisors and peers to ask others around them for advice, if they don’t know exactly what to do. What young resident hasn’t asked an experienced charge nurse what is usually done in a certain situation and received advice that was well worth considering?

As the new residents step in to training programs, the older, more experienced residents step out.  When they do, they move into the increasingly challenging field of medicine in what is often called “The real world.”  These graduates are young, bright, and remarkably well-trained, and they are welcomed by the doctors in their community (if the doctors in their community are wise, that is.)  And when this occurs, the newly graduated resident begins to say, “Maybe now I’m a doctor.”

As the new doctors step in, sometimes the older, more experienced doctors begin to step out.  It’s just the way of things, I guess.

“Journeys end,” as my former pastor used to tell me.  God has different calls for us at different times in our lives.  The best advice I have for physicians and their families is “Enjoy what you are doing right now.”  As my husband and I used to say when we were both in medical school, “If you have to wait for something else to happen before you can be happy, then you will never be happy.”

Proverbs 16:3 tells us: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do…”

Commit what you are doing to the Lord, no matter where you are on the spectrum of medical practice.  Whether you are a student, a resident, a fellow, an established physician, or a physician nearing retirement age, commit what you are doing right now to the Lord.

This goes for wives of physicians, as well. Whether you are a fiancée, a new wife, a mother with young children, a working professional, someone whose children are grown and gone, or a person nearing retirement age, commit what you are doing right now to the Lord.  Only then is it worthwhile, and more resilient to change.

Soon what you are doing will be something different.  Time passes and with it your energy and abilities seem at once to increase and to dissipate.  If you are not careful, you find yourself looking back and wondering, “What happened?  Where did all these young doctors come from?  When did all my children grow up?  When did I get old?”  It can’t be all about medicine.  It can’t be all about family.  It has to be about what you are doing now and if you have committed it to the Lord.

Then it makes sense.  Then you can go about the work sanely; stepping in and stepping out, right on cue.

Sharon is both a physician, and the wife of a physician, who lives in lovely Lincoln, Nebraska. She says she is not old, because she refuses to be old; even though her kids are all grown and her hair is graying. She finds new things to do as time goes along, because God seems to have more stuff for her to do. She wishes you God’s grace and blessings in your journeys.

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