Finding My Personal Happiness After Residency Graduation

September 1, 2023
I remember the feeling of graduating pediatric residency very well. At first, I felt exuberance and excitement! I had finally completed this monumental (not to mention, expensive) task that had been my life’s mission for many, many years. There was also a feeling of gratitude for making it this far and for the privilege of completing a residency at a prestigious children’s hospital.
These feelings lasted for many months as I dove right into an attending position at the children’s hospital where I trained. I was filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment every day when I stepped onto the inpatient pediatric floor. I felt like I was finally able to be the person I envisioned myself to be.
On top of that, my personal life was great! I was happily married and pregnant with our first child. Of course, there were moments of trepidation and times where I lacked confidence. I relied on my colleagues and consultants quite a bit during those first few months of being an attending. But any issues that arose were manageable, and life, overall, was good.

The Shift I Felt After Graduating Residency

It wasn’t until about 6 months after I completed residency that I realized something was drastically different in my life and I experienced a strange sense of being off-balance. I came to the realization that, after achieving all of this, I had no long-term goals. During my training, my life’s goal was mostly based on achieving a medical degree. I had been solely focused on becoming an attending physician over the past 11 years. There was not much time or mental energy to think about other things I could do. Now that I’d achieved this goal, I was faced with rethinking what my next set of priorities were.

Now, the world was my “oyster” (so to speak). It was liberating! Who would I be?

I knew I’d be a pediatrician—that was now a given. But, I had a longing to be much more!
I needed to develop my life after residency. What would it look like? And what did I really want out of life?

How I Found Life-Work Balance After Residency 

For my path in life after residency, I had to make decisions for myself and my family, but ultimately, I had to choose a life that was balanced and rooted in finding happiness. A career in medicine can be consuming and overwhelming. We make difficult decisions involving sickness and death that take a toll on a person.

Once my residency was over, I gradually came to the realization that the weight of the emotions I experienced at the hospital needed to be balanced with things outside of medicine that brought me happiness. Please don’t get the impression that my career was all sadness. It wasn’t! There’s a special kind of joy you experience when helping people. But, I needed to find happiness in other ways. For me, that included spending time with friends, family, and pursuing my hobbies (i.e., reading, fitness, and traveling). Now, when I find myself overwhelmed by medicine, I turn to these parts of my life.

This is what I mean by balance. I need all of these aspects of my life, because they all give me happiness. But I also need to know how much energy I can spend on each before, once again, I feel off balance in some way. 

Variety is the Spice of Life After Residency

The tricky thing when you have a busy career is figuring out how to balance all of the things you know make you happy. There isn’t enough time in the day to cultivate every hobby that seems amazing or take every job that will help you achieve prestige. No one else can determine what happiness looks like for you.

As you move through life and experience different things, hobbies or even people, there will be times when you will have to reflect to determine if this thing (person or hobby) is really worth your time and energy. I would encourage you (when you are not in the clinic, office or hospital) to get out there and try new things! What do you have to lose? You’ll always have medicine to fall back on!

Navigating Post-Residency Crossroads

Inevitably, you’ll reach crossroads in life and have to make decisions about what direction to go in. For example, I was recently offered a promotion at my institution’s medical school. It would have been a great opportunity to grow my experience on the academic side of medicine, which was something I thought I always wanted. But I didn’t take it, even though I knew I was letting people down. It wasn’t right for the life I’ve chosen for myself, a life that emphasizes time with my husband and children. It would’ve taken away from my time with my family, which is something that makes me happy every day.

Taking the job would have offset the balance in life I’d worked to achieve. This scenario has played out a few times in my career, when I’ve decided to put family first. Medicine is still pivotal in my life. It still defines who I am, but it’s not all of who I am. And you know what? I still have a thriving career, even though I’ve passed up job offers and prestigious positions. Some people might call this view of life “short-sighted”, but I call it “intentional.”I have chosen over and over again to come back to the things in life that help me maintain balance. So, I say, pass up that promotion if you have closely examined what it will mean for your life and determined that it does not fit! 

It’s important to understand that life after residency will look different for each person. Some physicians will dive right into their attending position (as I did) or choose a fellowship. Others will continue their academic work at a larger institution and begin educating their colleagues. There are many paths to choose after residency. Individually, we all have to discover which path leads us to the life that gives us the best sense of personal and professional balance. Our path can be chosen intentionally, or sometimes, things just fall into place.

There are also times in life where you might be faced with a new challenge: becoming a person that you’ve never been before. This happened to me after my first child was born—I had to reimagine my entire daily life!

The important thing is that you look for and cultivate things in your life that truly make you feel happy. Then take these discoveries and figure out how to balance them. If you find yourself in a rut on your current path, you should examine why you are stuck and find solutions that’ll put you on a better path. Or, try to forge a brand new one! 

Finding a Life-Work Balance After Residency: Some Final Thoughts 

It may seem odd that after 15 years of practicing medicine, I’ve chosen to write about the few years after graduating residency to explain my journey as a physician. I chose this time because, looking back over the past 22 years of my life, I think the things I discovered about myself during this time ended up being pivotal to my happiness.

In the end, in some ways, finding balance doesn’t force one to choose between medicine and happiness, because you know what?

Something I’ve discovered is that I’m a better pediatrician when I’m happy. This was the most important thing I learned during those few years after residency, and I hope to impart this lesson on to you!

It’s my my genuine hope that all of you find your path to a happy, balanced life after residency, and become the best physician possible.

Of course, my journey hasn’t ended. I’m still discovering who I am, as a person and a physician. I’m excited for the future, and the choices I’ll face down the road. I know that if I continue to focus on what I learned during those crucial years after residency, when I came to realize what it means to lead a balanced, happy life, the path ahead will be great!

I wish you the best of luck as you navigate your own journey after residency, with all of the ups and downs you’ll experience along the way. Go seek the balance that works for you!

Further Reading

Looking for more wellness tips for physicians? Check out these other (free!) articles on the Rosh Review blog:

By Jessica Komlos, MD, FAAP

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