I was talking with one of my friends who’s a third-year family practice resident at another hospital, and was struck again by the note of sympathy and pity in her voice when we talked about our plans for the next few years. Come to think of it, our choices three years ago are beginning to have very divergent consequences. She’s a senior resident, in charge of a team, with a much better call schedule than the juniors, and lots more time on outpatient rotations, with their normal office hours, instead of the 12hr days of inpatient (at that, her inpatient day is still only 8-10 hrs). I’m still a junior resident, a year away from even beginning to have any right to my own opinion or being expected to operate significantly. In less than twelve months, she’ll be free to get a new job and move wherever she wants. I’m not even halfway through.

Inside the hospital, it’s even stranger. The third-year internal medicine and ER residents that I’ve “grown up” with – run codes together, taken their consults, commiserated with during ICU months – are also now seniors, making plans for fellowship or practice. And I’m still here. . . and still here. . . and still here. They’re the seniors on their service, and I’m still just above the interns, still very careful to be respectful to the chiefs (in a way, more difficult now; when I was an intern, I was in awe of them, and not in much danger of speaking out of turn; now, the chiefs and I are almost friends, but there’s still a line of respect, and if I cross it too casually, they will definitely react).

And yet, except when I’m talking to these friends about their lives next year, it doesn’t really bother me. Inside the world of surgery, this is our normality. It takes 5-7 years. We’re earning the privilege of operating on other humans, and it doesn’t come cheaply. (I’m on an upswing tonight; they told me I might get some good OR time next week. . . we’ll see if it happens.)

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