Tick tock, tick tock. Time slows down as our decompensating cancer patient becomes progressively sicker on the floor. Daily rounds and conversations with the patient’s family require time and patience. We dedicate ourselves to sitting at the patient’s bedside, providing careful guidance, and discussing goals of care. The years of this patient’s life have profoundly left their mark on her loved ones; this is not a brief conversation. We must slow down to think of the right words, or at least the right sentiment, to convey to this patient and her family. This is not a surgical emergency. Speed is not the appropriate measure of aptitude.
Knowing when to slow down and when to speed up is something that, ironically, takes time. Anyone in medicine will tell you that our training is a marathon, not a sprint. “Deemphasize velocity. Life is too fast,” said the legendary gynecologic oncologist Dr. Leo Lagasse. As medical students, we spent hours gathering information on patients and practicing our presentations. As residents and fellows, we do not have this luxury. Yet, we tend to forget the days of our past. We sometimes become impatient while listening to the medical students’ wordy assessments on rounds. We shouldn’t consider this slowing things down, but rather, reminders of our journey from fellow travelers now at earlier stops along the same path.
During our medical training, the art of changing pace can be especially difficult when we leave the hospital. How do we walk away from our fast-paced days at work and shift our thoughts to our loved ones, our responsibilities outside of the hospital, and even ourselves? How do we bring our high-speed trains to a screeching halt?
In a broader sense, how do we make the most of our years of training and move away from a means-to-an-end mentality? Before we know it, our training comes to an end, and we are faced with the reality of the medical careers we have chosen. Will they be everything we had waited and hoped for? Perhaps only time will tell. Or perhaps we should take a moment of introspection and remind ourselves why we chose this profession in the first place. We must learn to enjoy the journey. Slow down, doctors.