They are very different – yet similar. Medical school and residency. Like two siblings – both filled with long hours learning the practice of medicine and late nights studying the science of medicine. But each is unique as well…Medical school with more of a focus on studying and memorization, especially the first two years. Residency with clinical and experiential learning being the majority of one’s time. So which is better?
I find there are many young physicians in both camps. Some loved the freedom of medical school and innocence toward the clinical side of medicine. Others crave the responsibility and feeling of finally making a difference that residency provides.
So without further debate, here are five reasons why I think Residency is more rewarding than Medical School:
Let’s get the obvious one out-of-the-way. There is something about a paycheck that makes the long hours more bearable, and going from negative 50,000/year to +50,000/year is a major swing. In medical school, each hour you are sitting in a clinic or hanging out in the hospital post-rounds you are PAYING for that opportunity. When you are actively learning, that’s great… But as we know, later in the day your participation in the team and learning opportunities slowly decrease.
In residency, every time you get stuck there later or have an extra responsibility, at least you know you are getting paycheck for your work – even if it is salary. And likewise, just the act of getting that paycheck makes your training seem like a true job, as opposed to “extended college” feel of medical school. For me, that was both very motivating and rewarding. Likewise, getting paycheck finally allowed me to start getting my finances in order (with a few mistakes along the way).
2) Active participation and Responsibility
In medical school, you might pick up and follow patients, you might even formulate diagnosis and treatment plans, but they aren’t YOUR patients. Someone is co-signing your notes, someone is putting in your orders. Residency, especially as the years go on, becomes more and more your responsibility. Get a page in the middle of the night, is this something you can handle on your own? Do you wake up your attendings or upper levels? These are real issues YOU deal with. Making decisions gives you a different sense of urgency and excitement about the hours your spending in the hospital that isn’t there in medical school. What you are doing finally matters, YOU are finally the doctor.
3) What your learning finally MATTERS long-term!
In medical school your learn a LOT of things that don’t matter. Heck, maybe half of what you learn you’ll never need to know or use again. Forget that Krebs cycle for the 10th time, no one cares. I literally have zero histology knowledge from medical school left now. But in residency, especially after intern year, you are practicing medicine that you will be using. I love trying to get better, faster, safer at delivering anesthesia care – because that is what I’ll be doing with my life! And come July 2017 – I’ll be doing it on my own, finally without supervision.
That is a great feeling, even if occasionally nerve-wracking. Whether its staying late for a unique case, or purposely requesting more difficult OR days – it’s much different from my “get home as soon as possible” attitude for many subjects/rotation in medical school.
4) You finally feel like you have a career…
Admit it, medical school is kind-of a weird hybrid of a career, but mostly just an extension of college. What kind of doctor will you be? “Well I don’t know for sure yet…” Where will you practice? “I have to go somewhere for residency first..” So are you even a doctor yet? “No.. but… ” I think this is part of the identify crisis many medical students face as they see friends and age-similar peers head off to start real careers, families, and receiving real income.
In residency, those feelings will disappear. You get a paycheck, you’ve got the letters after your name, and you are training to be a specific type of doctor. Pretty quickly you’ll develop a true sense of career and future. At the same time, many of us are finally allowing ourselves to settle down and start families at home. Then at work you make real medical decisions and matter to patient care. The sense of purpose and satisfaction you went to school for all those years finally arrives!
5) Light at the end of tunnel
Even though you’ve been through undergraduate and many of your friends are “done” with education, in medical school in many ways you are just starting. Even after you successfully finish step 1 (maybe the biggest milestone of medical school), you know there is still a long road ahead. You still have to interview, match, and then complete residency – another 3-5 years after medical school! Medical school tends to feel like you are deep in the tunnel, with no light at the end. Residency, on the other hand, has final end date to it all. After most of us will be free to head out and finally practice independently.
The requirements and learning won’t end, but the formal education finally will. For me, this made residency fly by compared to medical school. Every day I was closer to being on my own, finally closing in on the finish to years of hard work and education I’d put in. The light at the end of tunnel grew brighter and brighter!
What do you think – which is better? Would you rather do another 4 years of residency or medical school? Give your thoughts in the comments section!
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