I walk out of the ER after my last shift, finished with residency. It's an incredibly bittersweet feeling.
I've been in school for 23 years. Elementary, middle, high, college, medical, and then residency. I've been in training all of my life. For the first time I'm on my own.
I'll always have someone to ask advice from, of course. My fellow physicians, nurses, patients, families. But someone finally gave me the top degree, the final award. I'm an attending physician.
It is liberating - and terrifying. I no longer need to ask if I should bring someone into the hospital because of their mild chest pain. Then again, I no longer can ask if I should bring someone into the hospital because of their mild chest pain.
I'm ready, I suppose. A patient the other day had a serious blood clot in his lungs, and another physician asked me - colleague to colleague - whether or not she should give the patient clot busters. It's a weighty decision. Given to the wrong patient, they die immediately from massive internal bleeding. Given appropriately, a healthy patient goes from death's door to alive and well. We discussed the benefits and drawbacks, and in the end I recommended the drug. Right now, the patient is back with his family, sharing memories he might not have shared.
One of these days, I'll be wrong. Perhaps it will be my failure to recognize the problem. Maybe I will advise the wrong treatment. One day, it will just be bad luck. But from this point forward, it's me and no one else who will be responsible.
I look back now on 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3 years of residency, and ask myself if it was worth it. I've sacrificed the best years of my life to this profession and to my patients. The other day, one of our nurses saw my ID badge and remarked how much I had aged in only 3 years. My girlfriend pokes fun of my grey hairs at the young age of 29.
Was it worth it? I'll never forget the hard times. To this day I remember almost crying tears of joy when I thought I was stuck in an elevator. I've had so many good people die. I've had so many mean people live. I've been so tired I want to cry, and I've been so hungry I've stolen food off of meal trays.
It's a wonderful, vicious, honest, angry, happy, unfair, and real life that I've lived. I have seen the very best and the very worst side of people. I have been spit at, cursed at, and punched while trying to help the very people that assault me. I've been blessed by, prayed at, and thanked by more people than I can even count.
Is it worth it?