Op-Ed, Mentorship, Workplace

Dear Attending...

Dear Attending,

Today you looked at me with a face that begged the question, “Are you OK?” Yes, attending – yes, I am… because of you.

Attending, I have been a doctor for only a few weeks and I’m still nowhere near the level of skill and competency I’d like to be at. I still walk from one side of the hospital to the other with a confused look as I try to navigate the hallways. When the clerk asks me, “Are you the DOCTOR taking care of the patient in room 6?” I sheepishly respond with, “Yes, that’s me.” As the consultant asks me more questions about the patient, I nervously shuffle through my notes as I try to provide an answer. However, as I go through my shifts I remember your words – “This is normal” – and finally, after all this time, I’m starting to believe you.

I’m trying my absolute best, dear attending. Some days I believe I’m smart and capable, while other days this is not the case. There are days when I still struggle to find the right order in an EMR that seems harder to decipher than The Da Vinci Code. I hear you asking the fourth-year student questions and I hear that student rattling off answers with a confidence that I’m sure I once possessed. Where did all that information go? Did I lose it all? Am I really this... bad now? These are just some of the questions that creep into my brain throughout my shifts.

Dear attending, I’ve been dealing with these insecurities for quite some time now – but you’ve been there to reassure me that this is all just a part of the process. The first time I walked into a patient’s room I found myself hesitating as I introduced myself. As I peered over my shoulder, I saw the imposter sitting there mocking me. Thoughts of inadequacy and self-doubt rushed into my mind as I reassured my patient. I came out of the room wanting to rule out every likely diagnosis and prove to you that I am someone who has considered all the possibilities. To my surprise, and to that of the imposter’s, you agreed with me. That day I gained a little more confidence and finally smirked and said to myself, “Maybe I’m not an imposter.”

Dear attending, you amaze me every day with your poise and clinical acumen. You show me every day what hard work and dedication can amount to. Keeping this in mind, I try to shape my behavior and ultimately in a sense, I try to emulate you. As a medical student, I looked at the residents I worked with as being light years ahead of me. Now, as a resident, I don’t feel light years ahead of my former self. You, however, remind me every day that I am. After all, you’ve been where I am – you’ve done what I’m doing. You know better than anyone else what I am feeling and because of this, you know exactly what to say to me when I’m my own worst critic.

So, I write this letter to you and for you, dear attending. I promise to wake up every morning with a reinvigorated drive to become better, smarter, and more capable. I know now that my struggles are not just mine – they are ours. You have shown me that we are on a journey together and only by lifting each other up can we continue to move forward. Although I don’t feel quite that confident yet, I am starting to realize I am in fact not terrible. It’s true; I still struggle with the EMR, I still take the long way to get to the cafeteria, and I still trip over my words when talking to consultants. Luckily for me, though, I have an attending who doesn’t do any of these things and is willing to teach me.

I doubt there will ever come a day when I will not need you at all, because even when I’m all grown up, I’ll think back to the lessons you’ve taught me and use them to guide my approach in treating patients. My only hope is that through my failures I can grow and slowly learn to not be terrible. After all, dear attending, you’ve taught me that if you could get through it, then so can I.

I know you said I will do all these things by myself, but I do not believe this is true. I have the support of all my upper-year residents, ED personnel, and co-interns.

And so, dear attending, to answer your question: “Am I OK?” Although I still look lost the majority of the time - Yes I am. I still have doubts and fears, but certainly they are not as overwhelming as what I felt in the beginning of July, and if I keep working hard, and if you keep inspiring me the way you have been, I have no doubt that one day I will be able to make you proud of the capable attending I will become.

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