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Lifestyle design for the aspiring doctor

May 2, 2020

As an aspiring or training doctor, you’re my hero(ine). Right now, as a student, you might be facing tuition bills of fifty thousand dollars per year or more. You’ve got stress, and you’ve got exams. Or, if you’re a resident, you’re facing some tumultuous times in medicine, and you might be freaking out a little. Either way, you’ve got some obstacles between you and your future life as a doctor. It’s hard to imagine what your life will look like after all the hard work you’re putting in right now. So I got to thinking about lifestyle design for the aspiring doctor. As a practicing physician for six years now, I’ve made the huge transition that you’ll be making yourself soon. Here’s a framework to start thinking about your future and what you’d like it to look like. When you think about lifestyle design as an aspiring doctor, you’ll have a better idea of where you want to go, so you can start steering in the right direction now. 

Design your career

Some physicians are outspoken, while others are go with the flow. I skew introvert personally, so it’s somewhat surprising I’ve wandered into multiple leadership roles. As you contemplate your medical career:

  • Do you aspire to be Chief, or Chair, or Medical Staff President? Even if you can’t imagine taking those roles, you’ll be leading a medical team. So consider the kind of leader you’d like to be. 
  • Your vision might improve the quality of care in your department or at your institution one day. 
  • Get to work on your interpersonal skills, and know they will also be honed on the job. Whatever your current challenges, don’t discount yourself as a potential leader.
  • Start working on foundational leadership skills. Pick up a book or listen to a podcast. Think about how you’d like to incorporate leadership into your career so you can start taking initial steps to make it a reality. 

Can your choose your hours as a doctor?

Some of the things you’ll need to think about as you transition from the student/ trainee mentality to an attending mentality will be your work-life balance. Generally, what do you expect, and what do you have control over? Having some idea will help you pick the right job when the time comes. 

Say you really like interventional radiology but don’t love waking up in the middle of the night- well you could choose to work at an outpatient vascular lab with no call, or you could work somewhere with a larger number of rads who share the call, and therefore take less of it. You could open your own outpatient based lab and focus on fibroids, varicose veins, or cosmetic IR. While none of these paths are easy or built overnight, they are all options. 

When I thought about my own lifestyle design, I considered my own drive to feel needed; it led me to practice in a smaller community that needed more interventional radiology coverage and expertise. I like being the one who knows how to stop the bleeding when no one else can. It’s been my choice to be on call at our trauma center two weeks out of each month, and it’ll be your choice too. 

Design your future finances while you’re still a trainee

When you look at your attendings, you’ll notice that some seem to spend a lot of money. They are sharply dressed, with a dry-cleaned wardrobe and a perfectly pressed white coat. They drive a BMW, and spend a quarter million dollars educating each child (before college!) at a private fancy school. So you might wonder, is that what doctors do? Is that what I should do? 

From the high overhead costs to practice medicine, to the educational debt we take on, many doctors get used to spending money they don’t have. But the cool thing is, you get to decide how you’ll manage your finances. So start learning about personal finance as soon as you can. Read about how people “survive” on $30k per year for some perspective- this has helped me. Learn about the concept of a savings-rate, so you can be prepared with a goal when you get that first attending paycheck. If you don’t have a plan, the money will sit in your bank account, looking like it’s there to be spent. It’s your choice how you manage your money, but the earlier you think about and get used to saving, the better. Your future self will thank you!

Design your personal life

  • Do you want to be the person who operates into their seventies, or would you rather plan for a second act, say, becoming a creative or a globe-trotting vagabond by your sixties? 
  • Do you want to fund your kids’ education at a public university? Will they attend private school? Or do you want them to enjoy an Ivy League education, debt free?
  • Wait, what kids? 

When you’ve had your nose to the grindstone studying medicine, it’s hard to remember you have a right to make all these decisions about your life, just like everybody else. At least that’s how I felt at the end of training!

You’re the heroine in your own adventure. And while you won’t always have control (over your fertility or the challenges life throws your way), a lot of this stuff is up to you. You can be a surgeon with four kids, and train other future surgeons! You can have four kids and Chair a Radiology department. Or you can opt to have fur babies, or a pet project instead. Lifestyle choices don’t dictate your career choices; you can do what you wish. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. 

Design your time outside the hospital

Would you believe I took 12 weeks off work last year? What did I do with all that time?

  • I attended not one, but two NON-medical conferences, in order to learn skills outside of medicine. 
  • I spent a week at a medical conference
  • We spend a couple weeks each year with family back east. 
  • My little family of 3 likes to travel, so normally we’d be planning a trip abroad… those plans are on hold for now. 
  • When I’m not galavanting to other locales, I’m stay-cationing at home, or playing stay-at-home mom. 

When I take a week off, I can actually go to therapy (during banker’s hours!), where I work out the mental and emotional kinks. Without the extra time off, my schedule simply wouldn’t allow for it. With the remaining time left, I can read with my kid, hang out in the pool, and manage my blog. 

Aside from self-care and family care, I’ve made a hobby of learning about investing venues like real estate. I’m learning to be a landlady, with the end goal of long-term passive income in mind.

Continuously tweaking my own lifestyle helps me get closer and closer to the ideal life for me. 

Lifestyle design for the aspiring doctor

You have a lot to think about as a student or trainee, and you are already super-human for what you’ve accomplished. But in a quiet moment, you might look up from your study guide and wonder, what does my future look like? 

Well, it’s up to you to design it. Use someone you identify with as a template, but don’t forget to add your own flourishes. It’s your life, after all. It’ll be built on your individual desires, preferences, and priorities.

These are some of the things you can consider as an aspiring or training doctor. You’ve worked hard to build this life- don’t forget to enjoy it!

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  1. Christine Chavez says:

    Great post Dr. Hamilton! I’m still reading Tim Ferris’ book, Tools of Titans, and for the first time today heard of the term ” lifestyle design”. I though it was cool to see you use it in your blog 🙂

    • Tired Superheroine says:

      Have you read the 4 hour workweek? By Ferriss? I have wanted to read Titans, what do you think, and most importantly what is the page count?! His books can be encyclopedic

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