When I started residency, I was convinced of two things: 1) I’d work really hard to learn how to be a good surgeon and 2) I’d find ways to keep doing the things that made me who I am. I planned to read on every patient, go to every operative case I could and—of course—practice tying lots of knots. Even though I’d seen others fail, I thought I could find snippets of time here and there to do what made me happy outside of surgery.
I could easily find 25 minutes to whip up a batch of creatively flavored cupcakes. It would be no problem to get in a few sets of bench press and squats. Taking a trip to the local art museum on a golden weekend would help me rejuvenate myself.
Once I started residency, working hard and checking the boxes came easy. Checking in on a patient to make sure that a 10-point increase in the heart rate wasn’t a leak, an MI, or some other impending disaster was second nature. Maintaining my hobbies was more challenging.
My intern and second year, I managed to do some baking. Whisky sea salt dark chocolate cookies, lemon lavender cupcakes. But my third year, I wanted to make mint double chocolate cupcakes. I went to grab mint extract— a staple in my kitchen during med school— and realized we had none. I conceded by trying to make some simple chocolate cupcakes but realized we didn’t have baking soda either… clearly my husband didn’t have the same cooking priorities I did! After a couple of other misguided attempts at baking, I realized baking wasn’t as comforting as it once was.
As I spent more early mornings making plans for my patients and more late nights preparing for cases and discussing patients with my junior residents, trying to get to the Detroit Institute of Art seemed like more of a chore than a pastime. By the end of residency, the only two hobbies I still enjoyed regularly were traveling and gardening (or more honestly, keeping a few houseplants alive).
When I first finished residency and had the luxury of spare time, I was confronted with an alien thought, “What do I want to do with my time?” and for the first time in seven years… I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure of what I liked anymore.
After a couple of weeks being frustrated, I decided to rediscover what my new passions might be. I tried making avocado toast, but after that foolhardy attempt, I decided cooking and baking as a hobby were permanently out.
I managed to keep a few plants alive throughout residency, so I thought I might enjoy gardening the way my dad and I did when I was younger. I decided to invest in several more houseplants and herbs. It took me 2.5 weeks to get all of my plants potted, but I enjoyed it… and I love having a little forest in my apartment and on my balcony!
I joined the local library and picked up some genres of books I haven’t read since assigned by my high school English teacher. Historical fiction, poetry, plays. So, I didn’t really enjoy the historical fiction, but who knew a thriller in verse could be so engaging!
I haven’t made it to the local art museum, but I did go to the geology museum and saw a real-life skeleton of a mosasaur, the gigantic aquatic reptile from JURASSIC WORLD. I also learned the difference between a mastodon and mammoth (the former is 20 million years old whereas the latter is 2 million years old and several feet larger).
On a whim, I biked along a lake trail. I was never one to bike trails before, but found this new experience to clear my mind and reinvigorate me. As I relearned how to find balance, I noticed some serendipitous consequences: I was better able to empathize with patients. I had more energy to teach juniors. I became more creative with my research ideas.
Throughout residency, I knew that I grew as a physician, but I didn’t realize how much I also changed as a person. Rediscovering myself and getting in tune with who I have become has helped me rediscover my passion for medicine and science.