An Important Aspect of Being a Doctor is Missing from Our Training

You finally made it! You have finished all your training. Congratulations. All those years of dedication and you have made it to the end, but in reality it’s just the beginning. Through this piece, I hope to bring to light the importance of early-career mentorship and the need for constant introspection. Do not fall into the trap of routine and automatic training as I had done.

For many years, all I believed was that I just needed to make it through my training. I expected that everything would just fall into place. I did not spend much time thinking about what type of physician I wanted to be. My energy was spent focusing on surviving my next overnight call. I just had to make it to the next morning in one piece. 

Toward the end of my fellowship, I started to have time to think about more than just my call schedule. I could start to daydream about what I wanted my career to look like. However, I was afraid to let myself think about the next step. I did not know what I really wanted and I did not want to fail. I felt stifled. I struggled even making it past the first major decision after my training: to stay in academics or to leave. Academics felt so comfortable. It was all I knew and I liked the possibilities if I stayed. This is probably because I had not been exposed to much besides academics and thought I would be lost if I stepped away. 

I finally was able to overcome my fears and decided to step outside of my familiar settings. I was very proud of myself. I had done something that I did not think I could do. But this decision led to more questions than answers. I had expected everything to fall into place. I thought I would seamlessly integrate into the group I had joined and would have multiple doors open to me.

However, I did not realize that my journey was just beginning. Little did I know that there’s so much more to a career than deciding between staying in academics or not. I quickly began to understand that I would need to be an active participant in reaching my goals in life—both in and out of the office. 

Early on in my career it became clear that nothing would be handed to me. So naturally, “where do I start?” was my first big question. I do not think enough time is spent in medical school and training on the subject of career development. Our priority is on the practice of medicine, as it should be, but this should not come at the expense of addressing the very important process of career development. 

Given that I have been so confused about where to start with career development, I have spent a lot of time talking to mid- to late- career attendings. Many have said the same thing to me, which is to be open to opportunities that come your way. Many are in positions they never would have expected. This is not to say they had no direction, but rather that they have been open to exploring options. I can attest that even up to this point in my life, I have taken many twists and turns that I never would have expected, but I can say without a doubt I am happy. I would not be where I am today, if I had not taken a few risks. 

I still am not sure what I want my career to look like, but I want to encourage people to start their career development early. Find great mentors. Pursue opportunities that will bring you one step closer to your goal. I also want to reassure others that may feel like me that it is ok not to have all the answers right now. If you are anything like me, you are planner, but that is the beauty of medicine. There are many options available. 

Dr. Fola Babatunde is a Cardiology fellow at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed her residency at Duke University Medical Center. She is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

Image by IR Stone / Shutterstock

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