Janine Zee-Cheng, MD, (pictured here) writes:
"You know more than you think you know."
My dad told me this before almost every academic examination since high school, and I don't think I ever believed it. Which was mostly because my brain was (and continues to be) so cluttered with Britney Spears lyrics and the names of the Beckham children that any undiscovered knowledge nuggets seemed highly improbable. Plus, I had self-doubt. A lot of self-doubt.
Still, despite much hand-wringing (both metaphorical and actual), I managed to decide on a career path fairly early. I'd done an elective in child abuse pediatrics as a fourth-year medical student and decided, shortly after intern year started, that this was where I was meant to be. I did research, I talked up attendings, I bought textbooks. My institution had a child abuse pediatrics fellowship; I thought I was a shoo-in.
PLOT TWIST: I was wrong.
The rejection email came during my third year of residency (the fellowship didn't participate in the match at that point), too late to apply for any other fellowships. Most of my colleagues had either matched or signed contracts with primary care practices. I suddenly found myself with limited prospects, no back-up employment, and no idea what to do next. Worst of all, I had been so absolute with my planning that I had little idea what I even really liked in medicine any more.
Feeling lost, I started posting my CV at random on employment websites. Headhunter emails no longer seemed repugnant. I started contacting large practices across the country, trying to find job openings in places I thought I might like to live: Seattle, Portland, Boston.
And then something fantastic happened: I spent a month taking call in the PICU.
I was on an outpatient rotation, so I didn't have to check in to the unit until four PM. But I found myself going in at 3:30, then 3. I checked the census from clinic. I called during the weekends to see how the patients were doing. Dim me: I was still so busy panicking about my uncertain future that I didn't realize how much I was enjoying myself.
Short story: a couple months later, I found a job. It was a great job, a fun job --part primary care, part urgent care-- and I worked with a group of outstanding physicians, nurses, and staff. I learned about real-life medicine: about autonomy; about sleepless, worry-filled nights; about workplace collegiality and drama; about patients and families and trying to make all the pieces of life fit together. The monster of self-doubt raised its ugly head more during that year than in all three years of residency. Still, turning in my resignation after fellowship match day was really, really difficult.
I'm almost finished with my first year as a PICU fellow, and I've no doubt that I made the right choice. I love what I'm doing now, more than anything I've done before. Going to work is fun. I mean, it's stressful and exhausting and anxiety-provoking, and I still feel like I don't know anything, but you know. In a fun way.
And do I regret not applying earlier? Given the chance to change things, would I?
Those were leading questions. Of course not. I wouldn't have traded this road for any other, because it's taught me three really important things:
- Don't rush it. If you're wearing blinders, you'll miss all the cool stuff on the side of the road. Sometimes the clutter that trips you up sends you on an entirely new path.
- It's okay to doubt yourself. Everyone does. Just recognize it, acknowledge it, and don't let it cow you. Because --and we all know where this is going--
You know more than you think you know.
ABOUT OUR GUEST POST CONTRIBUTOR: Janine Zee-Cheng received her MD from Indiana University where she also completed a pediatrics residency. She then worked for a year in academic general pediatrics, ultimately returning to IU for a fellowship in pediatric critical care. Her current interests include: social media and professional relationships in healthcare settings, yoga, and finding a really good recipe for tom yum soup. You can also find her on twitter @JanineZeeCheng.