Residency is not the right time to pursue extracurricular interests

LETTER — Posted Sept. 11, 2006

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Regarding "Residencies get flexible: Doctors taking personal time" (Article, July 24/31): As a graduate of the residency class of 2006, I was quite disconcerted with some of the comments and approaches by educators who are catering to resident extracurricular activities.

In an age of significantly decreased work hours, super subspecialties and increased number of physician extenders, it is more important than ever to have standardized, rigorous and comprehensive training in all fields. Residency should be a sustained period of intense clinical and academic experience. Any personal goals outside of family should be attended to before residency or postponed.

The generation of medical students entering residency today has a much different attitude than those before them. Many educators would agree that today's resident is less disciplined and more distracted, and has dramatically more free time. Necessary work restrictions have unintentionally encouraged residents to leave their training when they leave the hospital. Perhaps I would not feel this way if I did not know firsthand that the majority of residents rarely use free time for anything remotely medical.

Although we want doctors to be happy, healthy and well rounded, residency is a time for total commitment to the profession, continuity of patient care, and a consistent clinical education. Learning to be a good doctor should not be a part-time experience, and there is little room for different priorities. It is appropriate to include electives for residents in research and rare clinical experiences, but advocating extended leaves for anything not strictly medical promotes the wrong attitude toward training.

There is certainly more to life than medicine, but I would be the last to support training residents when it is convenient. The cumulative time of training may be equal, but where does one draw the line? Only train as a resident on Saturdays for 10 years, or attend resident night school for eight?

I am afraid for the future of residency training and frustrated by a new generation who do not think of themselves as training for a profession. Would one want to fly with a pilot whose top priority in flight school was not learning to fly? I think becoming flexible damages the disciplined system that has trained our excellent clinicians of the past. Last I looked, we were still in the era of patient safety and not in the era of the resident.

Peter F. Lalor, MD, Sunrise, Fla.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/09/11/edlt0911.htm.

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