Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz grew up knowing she wanted to be a doctor. Her mom was a nurse and there were always family friends, aunts, and uncles that were physicians. She found a home in primary care, where she enjoyed the collaboration between nurses, respiratory therapists and other specialities while caring for a patient. Even though she had volunteered at her mom’s nursing unit and shadowed as much as she could during college and medical school, she was still surprised by the amount of work a doctor has by the time she got to residency.
“I guess I didn’t fully know just the amount of responsibilities we had as a resident. We have so many patients to be responsible for and I guess while I was prepared for it, it was kind of overwhelming at first,” Dr. Cruz admits. “Also, I wish I had known that it’s okay not to know everything. When we first started I felt really stressed because I felt that we were expected to know everything and there’s this misconception that interns were expected to have everything figured out. I wish I would have known that it’s okay to not have everything figured out.”
Another thing Dr. Cruz wishes she would have known? That she was wrong to think residents couldn’t have a life outside of medicine.
“One thing I believed coming into residency is that we just wouldn’t have time to live our lives or have any fun,” she says.
So she’s helping combat that stereotype, one instagram post at a time.
With an audience more than 37,000 followers, Dr. Cruz is showing that she still has a life beyond being a resident, even though many posts feature the resident side of her.
“I wanted to show people you can still have a life outside of medicine and you can still make time to do things that you love. I wanted to show people residency is not as bad as people make it out to be,” says. Dr. Cruz.
In addition to showing her life as an adventure seeker traveling the world, a resident in internal medicine, and a partner of many sponsorships she’s secured through instagram, Dr. Cruz also aims to share positive quotes and messages to try to inspire others.
“My mom told me at a young age, ‘Do what makes you happy and don’t do things for other people.’ I feel like I’ve taken that with me all throughout my life and following it has done so well for me. You put what you want first, which sounds selfish, but doing what makes you happy helps you life a life that you want to live,” says Dr. Cruz.
Dr. Cruz takes stress-relief and ways to recharge seriously — at her residency program, there have been a few resident suicides, which have spurred an increase in wellness programs for her fellow residents.
“The nature of our work is so high-pressure, it’s so depressing, and there’s this stigma about mental health, but I would want to tell people that it’s okay to get help, and it’s okay to talk about your feelings with others,” Dr. Cruz says.
For her, the support system of friends and family is what she says is the most important in striking balance in her life.
“In order to be happy and balanced you have to have people that support you and understand where you’re coming from,” Dr. Cruz says. “For me, even friends that are outside of medicine I enjoy because we can talk about things that I don’t talk about all day long with my other co-residents.”
Beyond talking to others in real life, she talks to her followers on her Instagram, which uplifts her. But of course, the happiness itch is also scratched by helping her patients, especially her patients at Veterans Affairs, where she encounters a hot topic in internal medicine: addiction to opiates.
“A lot of my patients have issues with chronic pain and unfortunately they have been on drugs for a very, very long time. So many years of narcotics and opiates, and a lot of them are basically addicted because they’ve been on it for so long,” says Dr. Cruz. “Even the notion of trying to wean them off of these chronic pain medications causes them to be very upset, and unfortunately, a lot of these patients didn’t know at the beginning that these medications could cause addiction long term.
Thankfully, Dr. Cruz does have examples of cases where she has been able to wean someone off medication, even if they weren’t opiates.
“One of my patients was having some issues with his blood pressure and diabetes. He was on several medications for both of those conditions and during the past three years, we’ve been tirating these medications and educating him about lifestyle management,” recalls Dr. Cruz. “Recently we were able to take him off his diabetes and blood pressure medications because he was just so inspired about living a healthy lifestyle that he decided to make a change in his life.”
Dr. Cruz says that it’s changes in patients’ lives like these that let her know she picked the right profession.
“That to me was so gratifying, being able to help someone, guide them to living a healthier lifestyle,” Dr. Cruz says. “I feel like that pays off in so many ways, and that makes me feel happy as a physician, being able to change and improve someone’s life.”