Knowing that her experience could help others navigate the pathway --however circuitous-- to pediatrics, I asked an esteemed pediatric hospitalist colleague if she'd share her intriguing story. Here are her words:
Hi there! I’m probably the last 35 year old person to learn what a blog is (I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account either), but I thought I’d share my experience in applying to a pediatrics residency.The fact is, I didn't apply to a pediatric residency program.
I applied to an Emergency Medicine residency
. No, I didn’t click the wrong button on ERAS
. I actually thought I wanted to be an emergency medicine physician when I grew up. I thought it would be a great career choice and personality match for me. I loved the idea of being so versatile, and the variety of clinical experiences was appealing. Lucky for me, I matched
at my top choice.
The problem was, a few months into my training program, I started to think that I might be in the wrong field. At first I thought it was just an adjustment; being an intern is hard, and I thought maybe I’d change my mind over time. Then I started thinking that there was actually something wrong with me, since the program was great, my friends in my program were incredible, and I was learning so much. I just wasn’t enjoying what I was learning as much as I thought I should. I began to realize that I enjoyed my inpatient pediatric ward month and my pediatric ED months more than all of the other rotations in the adult ER. To make matters more complicated, my fiancé matched at a program 100 miles away.
I had no idea what to do, because the match for the coming year had come and gone, and I was worried my program director would have a fit if I told him I was thinking about leaving the program. And he did.I thought I was the only person to ever consider leaving a training program.
I couldn’t believe I was going to be an M.D. and be unemployed! My parents were not happy with that idea. I quickly got a job at Kaplan tutoring for the MCAT
and was planning to do research near where my fiancé was starting his residency program.
I called a few of the program directors at the nearby pediatric training programs, and explained my situation. To my surprise, each was open to the idea of someone coming in outside of the match. However, as expected, each of the programs was already full. But I’ll never forget what one program director told me, when I was particularly bummed about my situation and spoke with him on the phone. He told me that his program had all of their spots filled, but that, “you never know, people have babies, cars roll over, and gall bladders need to come out.” I laughed out loud at the morbid ideas that might allow me a position in his program, but he was right. It turned out that 3 women in his program’s entering class were pregnant and expecting their babies at exactly the same time. It would be too expensive to hire a physician extender. And that’s how I became a pediatric resident.
That’s really why I’m writing this blog post: I began learning through the grapevine, and later as an associate residency program director, that this situation is more common than most of you might realize, and that spots at good residency programs open up regularly because of unexpected circumstances. In fact, when I joined my pediatric residency program, I found out that 2 other members of my program had changed their residency career path too. That being said, here are my lessons learned
1) Many people, including physicians, change their career paths multiple times in the course of a lifetime.
Sometimes the new career path has little to do with practicing clinical medicine, but may nonetheless require a physician’s expertise and medical knowledge.
2) Try your best to choose the right career path and residency program for you the first time around, but...
remember that it’s generally a decision that will affect the next 3-5 years of your life, not the rest of your life on the planet
3) Take “care” of yourself.
A decision to change your career path, or even to just change your residency program, is a big one, and it can be difficult to find time to process your thoughts while participating in a busy training program. Talk to trusted friends, family, a counselor, or other mental health professional. I did all of these. There’s no shame in that game.
4) Don’t burn any bridges.
Even if you decide that you want out of a particular residency program, don’t mentally check out. Behave professionally, don’t leave your colleagues hanging, dot all your i's and cross all of your t's. You’ll still need letters of recommendation
. More importantly, integrity matters.