My friend ran the Chicago Marathon. What a woman! Then she hosted her son’s 10th birthday party the next day at School of Rock. Upright. With a smile. As always. Unbelievable. A few days later, we were chatting and she mentioned she’d improved her time by 4 minutes. She ran it in 3:24:20. I’m not the bestest mathematician (or grammaratician!) but my calculations show that’s less than 8 minutes per mile for more than 26 miles. Wow. If I run one mile in less than 8 minutes, that’s good for me. Two years ago she ran a half-marathon and said in surprise afterward, “I won first place in my age group actually!”
But this gal is also a doctor. Well, she was one in Britain before she found her man and got married and he left professional music to return to corporate life so that they could raise a family that way. Essentially a Family Medicine doc since that’s what docs do there, not just one age group or just one body part so much. They once went camping and her husband dislocated his shoulder and she had to reduce it for him in the wild. She kind of giggles and shrugs when she tells the story, “Well, it needed to be reduced, and there wasn’t anyone else there who was going to do it!” An American would have added, “And he wasn’t going to sue his own wife if it worked out poorly, anyway.”
She has been able to train for marathons running only 3 days a week, which has been very compatible with her family schedule. She still gets the kids to soccer and baseball, feeds the clan, organizes PTO events, and walks the kids to and from school every day, plans and runs the birthday parties. When she talks about training, she explains that she runs mostly with men, then again shrugs and says, “I like to run faster than most of the girls, you know.”
I love it. She’s an Animal. Inconceivable! (Hello, Princess Bride fans) And when I look at her and think of her running, I think, man, she’s a kick-ass Primary Care doctor too!
Because it takes a lot of guts and determination and discipline to train in medicine. Gray’s Anatomy was based on one of the hospitals that I trained in, but those residents had it WAY easier than any resident I knew there, especially the Surgery residents. But that’s another story.
I had to build capacity for factual learning. I had to learn to prioritize learning to get the most bang for the buck in terms of passing classes. I had to develop reading, learning, listening stamina to tolerate the long hours of studying. I had to learn to ask the right questions and find the right answers quickly and accurately. But I tell you that when I read for work now, I know how to identify what question I need to answer and how to find the information that I need quickly. I can read for facts now, and fast. Which is interesting because reading was a totally different experience for me for most of my life. I read voraciously growing up, for fun, all fiction, lots of fantasy with a sprinkle of mystery. But I enjoyed classics and poetry as well. I’ve read quite a bit of Shakespeare as well. I was an English major, after all. So I had a hard time initially in school because I didn’t know how to read fast for information, without nuance or metaphor. But eventually, I learned it. Practice, practice, practice. It really was like training for a race, building stamina but also specific skills like speed and how to pace yourself and what to eat and drink and when, and how to run up or down hills effectively.
As a learner, I had to learn to wade through personalities and learning opportunities to focus on the opportunities with the most bang for the buck. Sleep was at a great premium during training. I had a one year old when I started internship and was pregnant with my second during my third year of residency. I attended lectures, but if it was a topic I knew well or seemed low-yield, I would close my eyes in my seat and nap. One of my friends would wake me up to tell me I was missing the lecture and I would have to keep telling her not to wake me, that I was napping on purpose.
In terms of personalities, we had the opportunity to work with so many seniors and attendings in training. The students and residents of different levels and the attendings were always on a different rotations, so we’d usually get two different senior students, interns, senior resident and attendings. Each had different strengths and weaknesses as did we/I. Sometimes it was useful to ask questions or ask for clarifications, other times it was better to just say, “ Yes, Sir” or No, Sir,” whether you agreed or not in order to move the day forward.
The Grandmaster that I study martial arts with now once said to me, “If I had you 10 years ago, I could have made you the best in the world!” which is flattering. But my only response was that I couldn’t have done it 10 years before. Because I didn’t know how to shut up until I went through those years of medical training. And I wasn’t as efficient at being taught something and then almost unconsciously creating a learning plan to solidify my knowledge and yet be flexible as new information/corrections were added. And I didn’t have the experience to accept loss of skills and knowledge as part of the learning process and the experience and patience to repeatedly teach myself again. It was because of those days, weeks, months, years of pushing myself to learn more, do more, sleep less, think harder, learn again, communicate, organize, forgive, keep learning and reinventing that I can be the martial artist that I am now.
Sometimes the training is hard, overwhelming, strenuous. But in the end, you gain strength, stamina, speed , and confidence and knowledge about yourself. These last two are perhaps the most important, because you need these for whatever you do next.