I recently finished my Surgery rotation, which consisted of 4 weeks on GI/Bariatric, 2 weeks on orthopedics, and 2 weeks on ear, nose, and throat. I loved being in the OR. I also loved clinic, and seriously considered changing my career path to Surgery. However, my triathlon had to take a back seat during my 12+ hour days, and I found myself being unhappy when I was not in the OR. Surgery made me take a step back to evaluate what makes me happy, and I find sport to play a pivotal role in my happiness. I love being part of a team and training and interacting with people outside of medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I love my medical peers and supervisors – they are awesome people – but being able to not talk medicine is fantastic. When medical students hang out, we talk about studying, interesting cases, and how stressed we are for the upcoming exam (there is always an upcoming exam). I also love getting away from academics for at least an hour a day to just be and think about whatever I want. Triathlon has become my therapy during medical school.
Of late, though, I have found myself defending my decision to compete in triathlons. When fellow medical students, residents, and attendings find out I do triathlon, they often question how I find the time for it and question my dedication to the field of medicine. My usual response is triathlon and racing is a part of my life I cannot imagine living without. It keeps me happy and motivated in school. It provides structure, normalcy, and regular contact with non-medical professionals. I remind people that many medical students have families. No one questions a student for taking a few hours to go to the park with her child. I remind them that I choose to spend my few hours when I’m not studying, training. If anything, triathlon is helping shape my interests in medicine.
In the same vein, when an administrator found out I do triathlon, he questioned how it was helping me become a better physician and implied that I was not focusing enough on school. I brushed off the conversation, but it got me thinking about the larger picture and my mental health. It is estimated that 1 in 4 medical students have a major depressive episode during medical school. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, physicians have an increased rate of suicide compared to the general population, especially women. Female physicians commit suicide 2.5 to 5.7 times as often when compared to the female general population. During orientation, we had talks from student health, counseling, and well being about the rate of depression and suicide, and that they were all there to help if we ever felt overwhelmed. I believe that the best way to fight depression for me, is by being proactive. Exercise is associated with increased well-being, and triathlon makes me happy. While some individuals will doubt my ability to do school and sport, I know there are many who support me and will continue to surround myself by those who currently do.