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Story: Preface

personhood, stories, and residency

Preface to speech given at residency graduation. Organization and phrasing reflects oral presentation.

“The three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you.” – Anne Lamott, Thanks, Help, Wow: the Three Essential Prayers. 

After five years, I’ve concluded that the toughest thing about residency isn’t actually the practice of medicine or the learning of surgery. Rather the toughest thing is how much of yourself you set aside in pursuit of that learning.

Over the course of college, medical school, and residency, a broad, rich, multidimensional life increasingly focuses to a narrow channel of rapid-fire learning. Everything you learn plays a crucial role in the wellbeing, and sometimes the survival of the patient sleeping on your operating table.

The whole person, athlete, musician, writer, gardener, whoever you were before, now has limited time and energy left to do the things that once made you whole. My colleagues and I, we left most of our other passions by the side of the trail to continue the pursuit of this peak.

I say that not in a despairing sense, but in a reflective sense. We choose, for the sake of our patients, to invest the bulk of our 168 weekly hours in our training, sometimes to the detriment of our sleep, our families, and our wholeness.

However, it’s my hope that residency actually isn’t the narrow apex, but rather the wasp waist of a lifelong hourglass. That the funnel of college, medical school, and residency, which have gradually constrained my focus to one primary emphasis, will broaden out again to embrace other pursuits.

I shouldn’t call it a hope, in fact: it also is a choice. The day I graduated from medical school, my classmates and I took the Hippocratic oath and “dedicated our lives to the service of humanity.” You can’t serve humanity when there’s nothing left of you to give.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” – Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees.

One part of my wholeness has always been stories – reading them, writing them, telling them – and that’s ultimately why I became a surgeon. No one lives in a vacuum or makes decisions uninfluenced by the events and people around them. Today I’m going to tell you the stories of pivotal people in my past and present who got me here.

About the Author

Single With Scalpel is a Pediatric Otolaryngology fellow who tweets about life, humor, and medical education. She blogs here when 140 characters simply aren’t enough.

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