The Problem

Busy, Hollow, & Demoralized

What's wrong with residency?

There are so many ways to tackle this question and a popular topic among them is burnout.  I’m not going to pepper you with residency burnout statistics.  A quick search in PubMed for “burnout” will yield over a thousand articles describing the problem from an array of measurements and perspectives.  But you don’t have time to sift through all that information.  You’re in residency right now.  You’re breathing the 75-degree, sanitized air of the hospital everyday, & just trying to survive.  

One solution for the puzzle when I spoke up about the problems in residency was this easy promise of things getting better.  The promise of independent medical practice beyond residency sounded good at the time to just focus on getting through.  But as residency progressed, & I got caught up in the busyness of day-to-day life, there was a slow change in my inner life.  I noticed this growing sense of feeling hurried, hollow, and demoralized, and turns out that doesn’t end with residency.

As a profession, we discuss the suffering of the inner life as burnout, and typically throw wellness activities, lectures, and working groups at the problem to try and fix it.

And yet, many residents continue to feel the slow slipping of the inner life.  I joked about this on breaks away from residency and told my wife, “I almost feel human again.”  And to tell the truth, it took close to 2-3 months after graduating from residency to feel, “like myself again.”  As I’ve spoken with other physicians, many experience this slow shifting in the inner life.  All too often the residency experience increasingly feels hurried, hollow, & demoralizing, and residents like you need to find more rest, fulfillment, and clarity during your current season of life.   Beyond Surviving Residency  will help with this along three domains:

  • Hurried: (How do I want to spend my time in residency?) Anecdotally, residents cite, “not enough time” or a similar time-constrained concern as their biggest barrier to surviving residency.  Especially the unpredictability of rotating schedules, outside obligations, and unforeseen life events. 


  • “Feeling Hollow”: (Who am I becoming in residency?) In this series, I’m proposing that part of the problem is being disconnected from meaning & purpose in our work.  This is typically discussed as reconnecting to why you entered medicine.  But unfortunately conversations tend to stop at identifying your unique, individualized why without direction.  I believe this is a good start, but I’m proposing that part of the solution to “feeling hollow” is further guidance at developing our why & reflecting on the meaning and purpose of our work.  Residency is a journey that molds our professional identity.  And I’m arguing that as embodied persons our need for meaning & purpose in life can’t be put on pause during this season.  Every step of our journey in residency is forming us into something.  Your day-to-day life will challenge your beliefs, values, and biases throughout the journey.  And intentional wrestling with your experience throughout the journey with its meaning and purpose – I think – is critical to your spiritual wellness.   


  • Moral Burnout: (What does it mean to be a good physician?) If residency is the journey, then being a good physician is the destination.  If we can’t agree on a destination, then how can we be confident that we will get there?  We all witness suboptimal patient care or moral judgements by colleagues, superiors, and if I’m honest even within myself that seem antithetical to being a “good physician.”  But too often we are ill-equipped to discuss, challenge, or critique these so-called lessons we’re learning in the “hidden curriculum.”


My goal for our time together is to bring rest & rhythm to your busyness, point toward sources of fulfillment, & bring clarity to our shared conception of “the good physician.”

A disclaimer:  Any discussion of spiritual wellness within medical professionals will include an array of perspectives, each person bringing unique ways of living and thinking that I believe will leaven the medical education process if we are not afraid to consider it.  However, as a person of faith, my discussions & contribution toward resident spiritual wellness comes from a Christocentric faith tradition.  This is how I make sense of the world, where I find the greatest fulfillment, & the only way I can conceive to help the inner life of residents.  My intent is not to shame or proselytize, but rather to model a way for health professionals to bring their “full selves” to this conversation.  My hope for you is that seeing the professional life through a different lens will awaken your imagination to a new life in residency.  One of rest, fulfillment, and clarity.

The Weekly Reflection

The weekly reflection is designed with the hope of sparking conversations wherever you find yourself!

This week think on any of our big three questions:

  • How will I spend my time in residency?
  • Who am I becoming in residency?
  • What does it mean to be a good physician?

Let us know your thoughts!

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