Residency is no walk in the park, and throughout my intern year, I remember many times I wanted to throw in the towel and walk away. But when reality set in, and I would lie in bed and think through the logical process of how I could make it happen, it seemed complicated and nearly impossible.
How would I pay off my student loans? I had come so far; should I really quit? What would people think of me? Would I feel ashamed of myself? These are some of the very real and scary questions residents ask themselves when they contemplate quitting residency. The truth is that some physicians-in-training enjoy residency and some don’t. Residents quit for many reasons, and that’s OK.
We asked medical residents if they “ever wanted to quit residency.” Here's what they had to say.
I questioned my ability as a physician
Shane Michael Hagen, MD: "Well, I never wanted to quit residency, but there were several times I questioned my abilities as a physician. I would compare myself to others and at moments doubted whether I would have the skills to become an excellent physician like those around me. Oftentimes, type-A people like physicians struggle with imposter syndrome. I combat this by working hard, focusing, and taking advantage of opportunities at work to continue developing my skills as a physician."
"It's important to know that while you may have struggles along your path, others faced similar challenges. This is not an uncommon finding while training to become a doctor."
— Shane Michael Hagen, MD
I wasn’t sure I could stick it out
YPaul, MD: "There were a few months during my PGY2 year where I felt I didn’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to continue. Ultimately it was my parents and girlfriend who supported me through those tough times."
"Despite dropping the ball in maintaining those relationships, they stood by me and got me through it."
— YPaul, MD
I felt like I couldn't afford to quit
Gurinder Kumar, MD: “No, I never considered quitting residency. I am a very resilient person. I came to the United States after a lot of hard work and spent lots of money."
"I had worked too hard, and the loans I had taken prevented me from quitting."
— Gurinder Kumar, MD
Other residents who have felt like quitting
Olivia Sutton, MD: “What kept me from quitting is the promise of finally someday getting to do what I love."
Tina Yang, DO, NYPQ: “I remember that I’ve already made it this far, and there’s nothing else that I could see as a potential career option.”
Fisayo Kayode-Ajala, MD: “I have thought about quitting, but knowing that I have to finish residency to practice medicine stopped me.”
Anonymous, MD: “I wanted to quit, every day. When I looked back at how long I had pursued this field, I kept going.”
The challenges of residency make wanting to quit a normal reaction for many residents. On the other hand, residency is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, where many physicians get to enjoy the challenges of training. The most important aspect is coping with hard feelings and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It is important to take the best care of yourself, talk about your problems with a trusted individual, and maintain a strong support system both in and out of the hospital.
Every medical resident has a question to ask and a story to tell—a comical moment, a prickly patient encounter, or a hack for staying sane during residency. We survey medical trainees for their best questions and answers and bring them to you in this column. Engaging, enlightening, and entertaining—from resident to resident!