It seems counter-intuitive, but your biggest frustrations now can actually make life after residency better.

No matter where you’re at in your program — whether you’re in your first or fourth year — it can feel like it’s never going to end. You’ve been in school for the majority of your life, you’re working long hours and you’re under constant evaluation. Talk about an instant recipe for stress!

Instead of just stewing in anger about all of your current frustrations, you can actually make them work for you by examining them a little closer. That way, when you’ve graduated from residency (and have a more flexible and autonomous life), you’ll have a better idea of things you can do to eliminate these types of stress.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t ways to eliminate stress during residency. (There are plenty — just check out Dr. Adriana Tobar’s recent guest post on KevinMD.) It’s just that after residency, you have more freedom to sculpt the life that you want.

Below are three of the most common lifestyle frustrations for residents. Evaluate each one — which ones apply to you? What steps can you take to sculpt a more ideal life after residency?

1) You Constantly Feel Like Your Life is On Hold

As a resident, you might feel like you live in a bubble. Nearly all of your efforts are related to your education and training (and they have been for years). It’s easy to develop “tunnel vision” and forget about other things in life that bring you joy.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you consistently feel like you’re missing out on “real life”?
  • Do you find yourself fantasizing about the future (your ideal life after residency)?
  • Do you feel that even though you’re working toward your goals, your life has been “stuck” for several years?

If you answered “yes” to every one, don’t be surprised. You can use these feelings of frustration to inform your future (in a healthy way).

Now, think about these questions:

  • What things would you do if you had the time?
  • What areas of your life have you put on hold? How will you revive them?
  • What events have you had to miss because of your career?

Keep a list for yourself. As you start your life as a practicing physician, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Whenever you feel like you’re getting off track, refer back to the list. How can you prioritize the things that are important to you?

2. You Don’t Have Enough Free Time, and are Losing Touch With Your Sense of Self

This is another major frustration among residents. Unfortunately, burnout is much too common. After a while, your day-to-day life can seem overly routine (yet difficult at the same time).

Reflect on the following questions. How will you start incorporating “forgotten” interests and activities into your new life after residency?

  • What are the things I miss doing most?
  • What are new things I’d like to try?
  • How can I handle workaholic tendencies (if applicable) to maintain a more balanced life after residency?
  • How can I create more boundaries between my work and my personal time?

For more reflections and purpose-oriented exercises, visit Stage 4: Life, Money and Career Priorities in the Adventures in Medicine Online Resource Library.

3. You Feel Financially Deprived

Let’s face it… you’re not just putting intangibles on hold during residency. Chances are, you’ve sacrificed a lot to work towards the lifestyle you want. It’s important not to treat your first post-residency paycheck as lottery winnings, though (for more on that, see my previous post here).

To maintain financial fitness (and freedom), the most basic questions to ask yourself are:

  • What will your financial needs/musts be after residency? (House payment, loans, bills, etc.)
  • What are your financial wants? (Nice things that make life more comfortable.)
  • What are your financial dreams? (Luxury items you can aspire to, but are not necessary.)

You can find tons of information about smart financial planning for physicians in our Resource Library.

What has been your biggest stressor in residency? What are some things you’re currently thinking about to make life after residency better?


Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Alexian Brothers supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Alexian Brothers is making practice purposeful.