Friday, September 6, 2013

how did you celebrate?

My dad cried loud, heavy tears on the day I graduated from medical school. My mom cried too, although not as intensely as my dad. My parents, sister, in-laws, and two closest friends came to my graduation, one of whom had flown cross country to be with me for the event. We had dinner together at a Thai restaurant after the ceremony. My husband gave me a pair of emerald earrings. 

I don't remember crying. I remember feeling happy that I graduated and glad to be with my family, but as I had correct anticipated residency to be more difficult than medical school, I didn't feel overly celebratory about the milestone itself. 

I felt differently about the completion of residency.  When I walked out of the hospital for the last time, I looked back at the inpatient towers, thought to myself I never have to go back, and was surprised by the wave of relief that flooded over me. I'm glad no one was around to see what must have been the biggest, dopiest smile pulled across my face. 

But there wasn't time to celebrate. I graduated from residency on a Friday, moved over the weekend, and started fellowship on Monday. If I bought myself something to commemorate the occasion, I don't remember what it was. Although this achievement meant more to me than med school graduation, it's significance was eclipsed by the need to move and instability of my first few weeks of fellowship. 

Now I am graduating again, this time from fellowship, a milestone that will finally mark the end of my  medical training. 

Memory is an imperfect tool, a shortcoming I appreciate when trying to appraise the individual steps and aggregate of my medical education. To the best of my recollection I was happier in medical school than I was in residency and happier in fellowship than I was in medical school. But then again, my life outside of training was significantly different during these periods that it is difficult to assess them based on just the training itself. I had good friends in medical school. During my fourth year we all lived in apartments close by and spent weekend nights drinking so much wine that it gives me a headache just to think about it. I realized shortly after starting residency that I didn't much care for inpatient medicine. I had fewer friends in residency, a husband who traveled, and an unplanned pregnancy that affected my emotional health during what felt like an unending string of thirty hour shifts. In retrospect, I think I was suffering from postpartum depression where I told myself it was "just the blues".  Thankfully, it passed. Or maybe resolved when I completed residency.

And perhaps it is strange that consider myself happier now, in fellowship, than I was in medical school or residency even though, at the end of my first year of fellowship and just after finding out I was pregnant for the second time (yes, this one planned), I called one of my attendings (a female and the only remotely "mommish" of the faculty) crying. I told her I worried I wouldn't make it through another two years if they were as bad as the first. Even though I hated parts of medical school and residency, I never occurred to me to quit. She told me it gets better. And it very much did. (I am also fortunate that she never held this episode against me nor told anyone about it.) 

I started medical school just before my 22nd birthday. I am through five years of medical school (I did a research year between my 3 and 4 years), three years of residency, three years of fellowship and, last week, turned 33.  I am married with two kids and feel good about the job I have lined up and the career  ahead of me. 

In other words, I want to celebrate. 

And need some ideas. I have a friend whose husband through her an elaborate party (doctor themed) at his family's restaurant. Another friend put a trip to Jamaica for her family of four on a credit card and took off for a week after graduation. One of my (child-free) co-workers is spending six weeks in Europe. 

I don't think I will do any of these things. Although I am feeling indulgent, we are hoping to buy a house soon and will be moving. I don't need another big expense. 

So what did you do? Memorable dinner? Earrings? Party? Trip? Nothing at all? 


  1. None of my milestones felt like milestones because we were still mired in the academic job search uncertainty for my there wasn't any celebrating then. We weren't in a good place in our marriage, either.

    Three years ago, we had our 25th anniversary just about six months before we both turned 50. We have a community we love, a daughter we adore, and we both have work that nurtures and challenges us. We knew it was a moment worth celebrating - and we had THE BEST PARTY EVER. It was a whole weekend, anchored by a live band dance party on Saturday night, with our favorite people from all over the country. So that's my suggestion: gather the people you love the most, have good food and wine and good music, and have a blast.

  2. Something says to me, hmmm, maybe you want to get a happy little tattoo? (of course only if done safely and with clean equipment)

    Or, get some beautifully serene art for a spot in your new house (rather than body art, see above)

    1. Points for creativity. Unfortunately I already have a bit of ink signifying a single day of rebellion when I was 19. I've been meaning to get it removed for 14 years! I do like the idea of home art....

  3. My graduations were all very strange- no big parties, no trips. Just a quiet dinner with my family as we all reveled in the success and relief.

  4. My vote is all of the above =) Go all out! You have worked so hard to get to where you are and you deserve it! I think you should AT LEAST do something to commemorate the milestone and take pictures with your loved ones =) congrats!

  5. I felt compelled to reply to this as soon as I read it. I feel very strongly that this occasion must be marked in a way that is meaningful to you. It's very easy for it to get lost in the mire of life - moving etc - or to look forward (and past it) but this milestone came with much blood, sweat and tears and is a huge achievement. You've done it! How long have you waited for this day, imagining life post training? You are here! Pick something that will conjure up this feeling for you no matter how old, wrinkly and grey you become! For me, my husband bought me a gold ring set with diamonds when I finished medical school, which reminds me every time I wear it of graduation day. I've now passed my final exams in training, and are marking it next week with a dreamed of beach holiday to a place we've always considered special, a bit of a luxury! The deliciousness of anticipating this holiday will meld into the memories we make whilst there, and I will always remember it as a marker of this huge achievement. I'm normally one to just get on with it, to help others to celebrate, to mark my children's milestones and my husband's but I don't ever want to forget the angst that my training has caused me and the sweet sweet feeling of completion! It's been a family effort and I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than long lazy days and nights at the beach with them. Congratulations! I hope you find a way that is special to you, and would love to hear what you decide. As CloverMD says - Go All Out!!

  6. Congratulations!!! Keep us updated! You deserve to celebrate in whatever way you can dream up!

    Also, just reading your story of getting through gave me a little more umphh to keep pressing through the struggle that I am still very much in the midst of!

  7. thanks for the ideas ladies. I do want to do something... just need to figure out how to work it in to everything else going on.

  8. We went to Europe and took our then only-child. We took a Mediterranean cruise and spent extra time in Italy. I gave my family the gift of my time, something they sorely missed while I was a resident. And I did not do a fellowship, as I am also 33, now a mom of 3, and my husband stays home. But if I did, I think I would celebrate with another long well-deserved vacation. I still look back on those photos and smile and my son still talks about that trip and he was only 3.5 years old at the time.


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