17 July 2011

The July Effect

Many people, even those without a clear connection to the practice of medicine, are aware of the so-called July Effect, the worrisome time of year when new interns and residents swarm into hospitals and medical errors surge. Knowing that the transition from student to doctor is wrought with potential dangers, my residency program staggered the start of the intern year so that we incoming inept and fresh faced newcomers were paired with more experienced supervising residents. The result was that our “July Effect” probably actually happened in June and the honeymoon my husband and I had been planning for months was sadly and cruelly cut short.

As I have been enjoying the summer, though, I have begun to muse on another sort of July Effect, one that I will blessedly never have to suffer through again. While sitting at the beach with my daughter, I have had time to remember just how frightening, soul crushing, and depressing that transition into residency can be. The eighty hour work weeks, the phone calls from family and friends that go unreturned for months at a time, the layering on of guilt at all of the the things you are missing in order to do a job that you realize you are not doing very well, this is a July Effect of an entirely different kind.

On many occasions I have been asked by medical students and resident for words of wisdom on how to survive with hope or at least a modicum of dignity. It seems writing a book on the subject of how much residency can suck sometimes means I should have this all figured out. But truly there is nothing I can say that will make it easier except to remind these younger versions of myself that it is a finite period of time and it ultimately comes to an end.

At the beach yesterday with two friends from my residency class and their offspring, I was amazed by how long ago those sleepless nights at the hospital feel and how this new life we are living, as mothers and working parents, seems to be the only reality I know. Perhaps that’s because there have been so many sleepless nights since, only these were spent at home with Emmaline in the months before she was transformed into the sleep trained wunderkind she is today. Or perhaps it’s just another way of saying that residency, while an important job and one that we committed our lives to for those years, was still just a job. Life, our real lives, are what we are living now.

And it comes complete with sandcastles and sunscreen.