Last year I did a rotating internship. When I tell people about my year I have a stock response that I can dole out on demand. I have told my grandma, my new co-workers, my high school friends, and everyone in-between the same synopsis. It goes like this: “Last year I did a veterinary rotating internship. It was the hardest year of my life. I worked really long hours and went into the hospital on most of my days off. I lived two hours away from my fiancé but saw him only once per month. BUT, the people I worked with were great, I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with amazing specialists, and I learned more in one year than I could have ever imagined.”
All of these words are true, but they skim over the facts to make a sound bite that barely represents what I experienced. One of the frequent follow up questions is, “would you do it again?” And this is when I lie. I say, “Of course. It made me a better doctor!”
Here is my secret truth: I would not do it again. If I could go back two years in my past, I would not let myself agonize over personal statements and recommendations and spreadsheets of internship locations. I would not have done interviews and site visits. I would have found a private practice with reasonable hours, doctors willing to provide mentorship, and nearby specialists to develop relationships with. Maybe my development as a doctor would have been slower, but it would have come. I would have prioritized continuing education, read relevant journal articles, and not been afraid to reach out for case help. But I would not have done an internship.
I would not do an internship again because of what I now know my priorities are. I value my relationship with my significant other. I value my relationship with myself. And I value my relationship with my work. Last year, none of these relationships were good or even tolerable.
My relationship with my fiancé was primarily me regaling him with the little injustices I had experienced each day. I would smile all day at work and then unload my stress onto him on the phone that night until he dreaded my phone calls.
My relationship with myself was equally abysmal. I would torment myself over how I didn’t have it all together when it was impossible due to my long hours. I felt guilty when I was taking an hour to watch TV because I felt I should be using those few spare moments to do laundry, buy groceries, or make sure my bills were in order.
And finally, my relationship with my work would best be characterized as dread. I spent a lot of time staring at “Help Wanted” signs in bookstores and burger joints and imagining leaving my dream profession forever. I cried at least once a week as I imagined dreading my work for the next 40 years. I kept wondering, “did I really go through this much school and this much effort to do something that makes me this miserable?” Work is where we spend the majority of our waking lives. It cannot be something you dread.
I am now 6 months post internship and I do not dread my job. I have a private practice job with reasonable hours and supportive colleagues. I married my fiancé and we have a normal, healthy relationship. I can watch TV for an entire day without inducing anxiety. And, I am grateful and happy to be a veterinarian.
I know that for many an internship may be rewarding. I know that for many the sacrifices in quality of life may be worth it. In no way do I think that internships are bad or that no one should do them. But, I do know that for me it was the wrong choice. I made that choice thinking it was necessary to make me into a good doctor. But now I see that for me, being a happy doctor is key to being a good doctor.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Sarah Hagen is a small animal, general practice veterinarian in Colorado. Her favorite part of veterinary medicine is the moment when she feels an owner truly understands what is going on with their pet’s health. Sarah loves reading, cooking, and yoga (though she’s mediocre at the last two). She has an awesome husband and a terrible, grumpy cat, both of whom she loves dearly.