This post is by Joseph Joo, a PGY-2 Internal Medicine resident.
Since my last piece at the beginning of intern year, I’ve encountered patients in the clinic, emergency room, wards and ICU. Throughout working days, nights and most of the past holiday season in the hospital, I frequently pondered how I could work to achieve work-life balance. As I now reflect upon the year gone by and transition to being a junior resident, I’ve learned a few things.
Balance Isn’t the Goal
Rapid change is the norm during medical training. I rotated to different services on a regular basis and worked with an evolving team of mentors and trainees. Just as I began to gain confidence in a given role, I found myself moving on to the next rotation. At times, I worked 28-hour shifts, while other times I worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sometimes I was at the hospital caring for people in Austin who have been historically underserved, then subsequently in clinic serving the veterans of Central Texas.
With the goals I’d set for myself, I realized it was impractical to strive for work-life balance amid constant changes in my role and schedule. My attempts to achieve some form of a “static” balance to be maintained throughout seemed futile; I became convinced that balance shouldn’t be the goal during intern year.
Rhythm Rather Than Balance
Many professions, including those in medicine, have defined seasons. Spring tends to be a challenging time for accountants, fall brings about competitions for many athletes and winter is busiest for those in retail preparing the holidays. Intern year, albeit a long one, is a unique, busy season for physicians in training.
Instead of balance, I tried to create rhythms. I grasped the fact that it’s nearly impossible to balance the day-to-day during a nearly 80-hour workweek. But instead, over the course of several weeks and months, I would protect time to spend with loved ones and pursue passions outside of medicine on a different schedule than I’d ever experienced before. Knowing so, I embraced the chance to spend time with patients and their families during the holidays. I cherished the camaraderie formed from working long hours with colleagues who’ve now become some of my closest friends.
During intern year, it’s important to stay in rhythm and remember that being an intern is temporary. It takes being aware of the dynamics of change and leaning into it. There’s beauty in finding a rhythm during training that allows one to immerse themselves in the season while not forgetting or losing sight of things that are important. It’s difficult to do, but there’s great joy and substantial growth through it all. I’ve figured that out in this process.