It is that time of year again. Just when we have all the confidence in the world that you know enough to do no harm, it is time for you to graduate and start your careers!
These are a few things I know for sure about your career in anesthesia:
- You are going to make mistakes. In the beginning, there will be more than you expected; and as the years move forward, there will be less. My advice is pay attention to your mistakes. The growth potential from our failures is exponentially higher than from our successes. Own your mistakes; people tend to have more respect for those who are honest than those who point fingers. If nothing else, you will be able to sleep better at night.
- Someone will die on your table. This is anesthesia. You are aware of the life-and-death stakes. I hope you will be able to learn something from the case. Becoming a better anesthesiologist from these cases is one way we can honor our patients. And most importantly, pay attention to your own well-being. These events have the potential to be very traumatic. Please talk to someone whom you can trust about your experience and feelings. Just because you are a doctor does not mean that you are immune to the human response to death.
- You will save a life, likely many times in the course of your career. It is quite possible that you will not receive the recognition you deserve for your efforts on behalf of your patients. Realize that without you, those patients most likely would not have made it off the operating room table. Pay attention to your successes so that you can build on them—and repeat them.
- You never are really finished. After what feels like 24/7 in the operating room for three years, you are thinking that nothing will come through those doors that you can't handle. Wrong. Residency is just a foundation. You have much left to learn about your craft. My hope for you is that you continue to learn every day for the rest of your career. If you are paying attention,the learning will happen naturally with little effort.
- Duty hour regulations, two breaks and a lunch are over. Nobody cares anymore if you are up for 24 hours straight. If you are going home exhausted, you are probably doing a great job.Pay attention to your life beyond medicine. It is so easy in our profession to burn out, or worse, turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the daily stresses of our jobs. If you have friends, parents, a spouse or children, pay attention to them when you are not at work. One day, you are going to retire. The time you invest in these relationships is far more important than what kind of doctor you were. Anesthesia is a fantastic career, but you must have a life outside the operating room—it will keep you sane.
Most of all, I wish you a life filled with all that you deserve. Medicine is a noble profession, and you have chosen a field that takes patients through a vulnerable, stressful event in their lives. Be aware of your contributions, and take pride in your work. I take pride in my work, and you are certainly a huge part of my job. It matters to me that you are paying attention, and that you give a damn. While I am sad to see you go, it is part of our cycle of life in medicine. Be good, and know that I am proud of you, and thank you for all that you will do for our field and for our patients.
Ellen R. Basile, DO, is assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Oklahoma and the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, in Oklahoma City.