There were certain tasks I dreaded in my medical training – not because they were grunt work or hard or gross. It took me a while to figure it out, but finally I realized I dreaded doing things I wasn’t good at. Which, at the beginning of residency, was pretty much everything. Like clinic. It wasn’t the overbooking or the running behind, or trying to politely stop the talkers so I could move on to the actual physical exam. No, it was feeling like a complete and utter fake!
I have always been a terrible liar. And not being true to myself made me feel awful. And clinic felt awful. Pretending to know what my patients were talking about, pretending to explain that to my clinic attending, pretending to be confident in explaining a plan to my patients when I go back in their exam room. I hated pretending. However, with time, this feeling began to subside. As I grew more experienced and knowledgeable, I enjoyed my training and work more. I connected with my patients more. I didn’t feel like a fake anymore. I could be honest when I didn’t know something and go look it up. (I still do this… shhhh).
As most of us do, I believed that once I was an attending, I would have MADE IT. And I certainly did enjoy being an attending compared to being a student, resident, and fellow. Finally, I didn’t have to check out to anyone. It was MY plan. My well educated, born of experience and training, plan. It took all of 2 months to feel “real.” I remember thinking “yeah, this is what I do now.” It was nice.
Then slowly a realization crept on me. I was still faking it. I was subconsciously faking something at work. And I felt dishonest and icky. Turns out, my job wasn’t the most important thing to me. I had an amazing husband and kids, a whole life’s experience and soul outside of work. But there, in my academic ivory tower, I heard the message that my work, my patient care, my research, my teaching – was supposed to be the most important thing to me. And it wasn’t. I did research, BENCH work, on my maternity leave for Heaven’s sake. To show my commitment. (Turns out I was just trying to prove it to myself. Post on boundaries to come later.)
I had to realize I was lying to myself more than anyone else. No one asked me to be unhappy and lie. I just thought that is what doctors did. I was just trying to play the role correctly. But that’s the beautiful thing. I was done with training. I was done playing that game. (And a game it is). It was time to be balanced and remember the rest of my life with as much duty as I had put into training. Work was not, is not, the most important thing to me. Acknowledging that helped me find a place in medicine that was as comfortable with me as I was comfortable with it. And that made me a happier person and a better doctor.
So fake it ‘til you make it. But then don’t forget to be yourself. To all of my colleagues in training- preserve who you are while you are on the difficult journey to becoming a physician. Be ok with you. Don’t fake who you are, because we will all be better for the doctor you are as the person you are.