August 4th, 2011

The End …

I did it. I graduated.

I remember in sixth grade writing a paper about wanting to grow up to be a doctor, and today, I can truly say, “I did it.”

Graduating from residency, beginning my fellowship, and completing my Family Medicine board exam has made me feel as if I have finally put the punctuation at the end of this journey’s sentence. And despite having 12 more months to learn and refine my skills in Sports Medicine and another board exam on the horizon, I feel free. Free from the feeling of swimming upstream, free from the fear of not making it, and free from not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

I know I will face more adversity, self-doubt, and obstacles in the future, but, right now, I am enjoying this feeling of accomplishment. For the first time in a long time, I can take a deep breath and relax.

However, I have to ask myself, “Why was the journey so hard and stressful?” Is it because I am a Type A personality that can make a massage stressful? Is it because the relationship medicine and I have is similar to that of a square peg and a round hole? Or is it because it really is just that difficult? I believe the latter.

So, in an effort to help ease the journey for others, I have compiled a Top 10 list of things I think can make the path to being a doctor a little more enjoyable and/or tolerable.

Here we go…

10. In college, major in something other than pre-med. You will learn enough science in medical school. Choose something like art, philosophy, or dance. It will expand your mind, and you will become well rounded and able to communicate with patients on a “natural” level.

9. Remember that, ultimately, you are a person first and a doctor second. Patients will relate to you. They will trust in your treatment plans and adhere to your recommendations. Find time to decompress. Take weekends off. Schedule date nights. Get involved with charities. Go fishing. Do something to keep in touch with who you are as a person. Don’t let medicine define you. You were John Doe before medical school, be John Doe after.

8. Date. Get married. Have children. Some say that it is too much to handle with studying, it is too expensive, or it is “just not the right time.” I disagree. I think it makes you better. Plus, no matter how hard of a day you’ve had or how grueling your week is, when you get home, someone is there to take your mind off of it. As a buddy of mine said after having his first son, “there are no more bad days.”

7. Read gossip magazines. After hours of memorizing Robbins Pathology or Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll need something to purge your brain. And what is better than keeping tabs on Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and all the other train wrecks in Hollywood?!?! In addition, it will help you understand the many psychiatric problems you will one day be diagnosing and treating.

6. While at dinner, no matter how many of your classmates or fellow residents are present, DO NOT TALK ABOUT MEDICINE!! It always happens — you go out for a relaxing evening and inevitably start talking about work. Don’t do it! It is not fair to the non-medical professionals listening. Instead, talk about sports, weather, or the latest happenings in US! Magazine (another reason #7 is so important).

5. Periodically, wear normal clothes. I think we all will agree that one of the benefits to working in a hospital is the that you can wear scrubs every day. But remember, scrubs are forgiving; they won’t let you know that you’re not tying the drawstring as tight as you used to. Whether you weigh 150 lbs or 180 lbs, you are still going to wear the same size scrubs. Put on your jeans — they will tell you the truth about your circumference.

4. Exercise. Endorphins are good. Plus it will counteract the late night Cheetos, pizza, and soda consumed while being on-call or studying. And before you say it, there is always time! Just find it.

3. Call home. Talk to your mom and dad, brother and sister, hometown friends. Just because you’re “in medical school” does not mean you get to stop being their son, sibling, or friend. They are your support. Use them, lean on them, involve them. And remember, you are where you are because of them.

2. Keep an open mind while doing 3rd-year rotations. Even if you think you know what you want to do, don’t force yourself to like it. Enter each rotation with an open mind. Go with your gut. I wanted to do orthopedics but found myself “tolerating” the OR, not loving it. Yet, I loved taking care of families, seeing the same patient routinely, and developing relationships with patients. So I chose Family Medicine. Had you told me during my 1st or 2nd year of medical school that I would end up doing primary care, I would have laughed at you. But I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.

1. Take a deep breath and relax occasionally. Don’t be like me and wait until you receive your diploma to re-center yourself. Do it daily. Know that although the journey is long, it doesn’t have to be rushed. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the challenge. Realize that you, too, are on your way to achieving your dreams.

And, before you know it, your graduation day will be here.

The next chapter is frightening, but I’m ready, and you will be too. I don’t know where I will practice, what the government has in store for primary care, or how medicine will evolve, but it really doesn’t matter to me much right now. Today, I am happy. Today, I am free.

I did it. I graduated.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my thoughts and experiences during the last year. I’ve definitely enjoyed sharing them.

Greg Bratton

the end

37 Responses to “The End …”

  1. Andrea Parent says:

    Congrats, and good luck!

  2. Liposuction says:

    well done on graduating…

  3. Well done! Excellent advice.

  4. Charles K. Crumb,M.D. says:

    I agree, you have to live every day and enjoy the journey. I joined the paratroopers when I was 17 years old. Entered medical school with three children and graduated with four. I managed to graduate and attend almost all of their events. Recently competed in a 180 mile charity bicycle ride with one of my sons and my 18 year old grandson. After 43 years my children still love me. Keep up the good work!

  5. I would add on your list:
    11. Don’t consume cheetos, pizza and soda while being on-call or studying…
    Good luck!

  6. pharmacist says:

    Your tips are certainly enlightening and I do hope that more and more students read this and “listen” to what you’ve written. My fav part is when you said,
    “You are a person first and doctor second.” I’m not sure why this is so quicly forgotten as we go through school but thanks for bringing it back!
    All the best 🙂

  7. Karen Bogart says:

    Congratulations; not just on graduating, but especially on maintaining perspective and balance.

  8. 58 graduate says:

    Great. You have said all the important things that are vital in a life of medicine that is rewarding. If you don’t take care of you yourself, you can’t take care of others, no matter the strength of demands on you as a doctor. Thanks for saying it so well.

  9. Roland Tang, M.D. says:


  10. Dr. Kare says:

    Very sage advice! As a mom of 3 and a psychiatrist( 9 yrs post residency ) , I fully agree and could not have said it any better myself!

    Exhale & enjoy!

  11. Chris says:

    Thank you for your reflections. I am going to share these with my students (especially the new entering class). Good luck in your future endeavors Doctor!

  12. Beth says:

    ” when you get home, someone is there to take your mind off of it. As a buddy of mine said after having his first son, “there are no more bad days.”

    “And what is better than keeping tabs on Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and all the other train wrecks in Hollywood?!?! In addition, it will help you understand the many psychiatric problems you will one day be diagnosing and treating.”

    Best wishes to you but from the prospective of a female reader, it is interestng to note that you seem to place women on your list of things to serve you (a wife to take your mind off your day or to produce a son for you; female movie stars whose life in the tabloids is for you amusement. That you single out only women and not charlie sheen or owen wilson or michael jackson as case study for psych work up is an interesting psycholocial statement.
    Added up, I am going to give you a bit of advice. Read feminist blogs such as The New Agenda, or FemiSex or Uppity Woman. You will need to talk to your patients and I swear if you mentioned LL or BS as trainwrecks without mentioning the trainwreck that is Hollywood and the sexualization of our young women by the mass media your stock as a deep thinking MD will go down quickly with many women. You sound like a great guy, but remember that women have to go through their entire lives looking at things from the male perspective in order to thrive. Time for a bit of the reverse if you plan on treating female pts.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Congrats on graduation! I do agree with Beth’s comments, though. Being a female MD makes having a family a different kind of propostion (e.g. we are wife you are talking about coming home to and we are the ones who actually get pregnant and are having the children who ‘take your mind off’ the day’s events). Please remember this as being an FP MD you will be seeing many working women and they would appreciate a male MD who can see things from their point of view.
      Best of luck!

  13. In my day(1956)here in the US it meant 2 years obligatory military service as a Captain(USRYS)-I sometimes had to work by myself,but along with me there were other excellent physicians especially for neonatal surgery and anesthesia.I “scrubbed” for the procedures to monitor the iv fluid intake -and I presented our cases Jan/1958 at Saturday morning Pediatric Grand Rounds(Juzen By’oin–Yokohama University Hospital) for my friend and colleague Dr.Akira Mayehiro.I reported 2 clinical studies–one on Histoplasmosis in Childhood and the 2nd was Management of Children after Surgery for CHD.

  14. eyedoc says:

    I agree with most all your advice…especially numbers eight, nine, ten and one. I’d add that if you were well trained and studied diligently, don’t sweat your board exams. Relax, and enjoy the experience. You’ll do well.

  15. Congratulations, Greg!
    You are at the beginning, not the end of your medical career.
    45 + years out of medical school (1963), I still enjoy the practice of medicine, as a primary care and pulmonary internist.
    I particularly support your suggestion #10. I was an English and History major in college, in addition, of course, to being pre-med. I use my English background every day to communicate clearly with my patienrs, to write and dictate lucidly, and to summarize results for clinical research papers.
    I satisfy my history impulse by writing history essays and books and Directing the Concord Guides. We do walking tours of Lexington and Concord (MA), highlighting the unique Colonial, Revolutionary and literary aspects of the Boston area.
    As I progress from semi-retired–working 20-24 hours a week–to fully retired in the near future I will have fun things to do… daily.
    Congratulations again!
    And remember: Corners UP! (ie SMILE)
    Joseph L. (JOel) Andrews, M.D./ Concord, MA

  16. Susan says:

    Congratulations on this huge accomplishment! It’s joyful to think about the career ahead of you and its blessings to others. Thank you for writing such a great column. (This one makes me look forward to reaching my biggest professional goal so far!) I’m sending best wishes and a prayer for your continued success!

  17. crydoc says:

    I agree 100% . Everything you advise is the way I’ve lived my life after residency and 34 years of Family Medicine. I hope others follow your advise.

  18. Alan says:

    I like your photo with the fish. Look forward to your future photos with your son or daughter or spouse holding the future fishes together.
    Good luck.

  19. Tara says:

    I am a doctoral student, not in health sciences, and your advice is still extremely relevant. My husband is a resident in emergency medicine, and I wish he had majored in dance when we were undergrads. I appreciate your honesty and the fact that you are a “writing” doctor. I believe that writing, too, heals. Cheers to you!

  20. Norman M. Canter, M.D. says:

    I majored in Psychology, but took many pre-med courses, including the usual inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, biology, comparative anatomy, developmental anatomy for 133 credits in 3 1/2 years. That still allowed time for 2 terms of music appreciation and 2 terms of art appreciation. I had room for a comparative philosophy course. I believe that it is important not to limit oneself to 120 credits in 4 years. The non-pre medical subjects are still paying dividends in art, music and psychology interests. My career was in surgery.

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