Why it’s not a race to the consultant finish line

Sometimes in medicine it can feel like you’re in a fast-paced race to the consultant finish line.

The earlier you get started the better, with some people as young as 17 jumping into the competition.

I was one of them!

At the ripe old age of 17, I stepped into the building of my med school ready to become a doctor!

I remember my medical registrar telling me he was jealous I’d started so young. That meant I could probably be a consultant by 30.

My trajectory meant that at 22 I’d be a doctor. The thought scared me, but also it seemed good to be going so fast. By 30 I could be a consultant, wow, isn’t that exciting?

Why that didn’t happen

Plot twist, I didn’t become a doctor at that time, and I’m not going to be a consultant at 30 (I’m pretty sure).

What happened?

After three years of medical school I was kind of miserable and struggling in my clinical placements. I was exhausted and emotionally drained. Deep down I questioned if I wanted to finish my degree and if I actually wanted to be a doctor. Though I didn’t voice those thoughts to many people.

So I deferred fourth year and, at 21, I loaded up a backpack. I spent the year in South America, learning Spanish, hiking, travelling, meeting amazing people and volunteering. It’s where I met my future husband, and honestly it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself.

More on that trip another time.

After this amazing year I did return to medical school, much to the relief of my family. I graduated with first class honours and applied for my first job as a doctor.

But again deep down I felt a sense of dread. I really didn’t want to do internship. I knew it was going to be super tough and wanted to avoid it.

So I declined my intern job. Yep declined. Off to South America I went again. This time I lived there in a car (again another story for another time).

After another beautiful year escaping my responsibilities I returned to Australia to finally face my reality. I was technically a junior doctor! Who should have been working for a few years now.

I did complete internship, residency and even worked into PGY3. But I stepped out of the race. This meant that my old trajectory didn’t happen. However, this made room for a whole other walk of life I wouldn’t have known.

Why life isn’t a race

Yes, I could be a lot more senior now. My original cohort are currently PGY5. A lot are fully-fledged GPs, others are almost finishing up their training programs or on their way to completing it.

I’m PGY3 and am not part of any training program. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I used to live always focused on the future, never taking the time to enjoy the present moment. I wasn’t enjoying my time in medical school or as a junior doc but ignored it with hope for a better tomorrow. What about all those years I lived?

After so many years pushing through and waiting for the end result, I realised that maybe I didn’t even want that end result. So I stopped racing that race and stepped back to reassess.

If you’re focused on the finish line, you can lose sight of the present

Many people advised me to “just finish” med school and “just do internship and residency”. After that I can have time off. Then during residency I was told to “just hang in there and get your letters”. However, I listened to myself during these times and didn’t wait.

If I waited, things would’ve looked very different. In 2019, I spent the year driving around South America with my partner. In January 2020, I started internship and then COVID-19 hit the world, freezing everything. Who would’ve predicted that?

Things have changed forever. I’m grateful that I slowed down those years and saw other ways to live. Since 2020, I’ve rarely left my home town.

Though travel is a luxury, I’m trying to highlight that purely focusing on achieving future goals can lower our appreciation of the present. Sometimes it can even mask what we are feeling deep down.

Let’s take the time to check-in with ourselves, look around and enjoy what we have today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. The future and past don’t happen, we only have today.

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