I don’t know exactly when I developed my love for travel; but I can remember exactly when I developed my need for it. I was a third year medical student, 4 months after an unexpected breakup, 3 months into hospital rotations, and still well over a year away from medical school graduation. Long hospital days seemed to stretch out in front of me until the end of time. I felt like I was going to go crazy, or drop out of medical school, or become a grumpy, pessimistic, burnout doctor at the ripe old age of 24.
So I called my parents and told them that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas. I counted up the 19 days I had off between rotations. I saved all my money and borrowed the rest. I renewed my passport. And I bought a round trip ticked to Uganda (if you were following me until I chose Uganda please feel free to replace the destination with a sandy beach, or a bright city, or your parents living room surrounded by family. The point of the story is not the place).
Suddenly, the end of time was defined by an airline ticket, and the hospital days seemed more manageable. I spent the weeks prior excitedly planning for the trip and the weeks after sharing stories and photos with anyone who would listen. I had tangible proof that my life was more than just work, even if the hospital required my all at other times.
Uganda was the first of many trips to fill the seams of my medical training, and now career. Near or far, north or south, with family or friends, for days or weeks, travel became my way of remembering all the parts of me that exist outside of medicine. It allows me to disconnect from my patients and work both literally and figuratively and connect with my loved ones and myself in a way that can be hard after a long day of clinic. Something about physically leaving my city allows me the freedom to truly relax, adventure, read, sleep, and dream. It makes me more present in my daily work knowing that I have time just for me somewhere down the road. And I return re-energized, even when slightly jet-lagged.
Uganda – Christmas Morning 2009
Be it during medical school, residency, or the life you choose for yourself after all the training, time away is more than just the dreamy Instagram pics you get to post. Time away, no matter where it is spent, is for you and your loved ones. I urge you not to let it slip by or go unnoticed between the weeks and months of hard work. Make a plan, take a trip, do something you used to love, do something you’ve never done, let your time away from work remind you of all of the parts of life and yourself that your appreciate.
Uganda Sipi Falls, Uganda
This August I will be returning to Africa with my husband and parents in tow. All these years later, there is something holy grail-esque about going back. Similar to my third year of medical school, my first year as faculty has sometime felt like a fight to keep from going under. And as I pack and repack my things, check my camera, and pull out my passport I am filled a feeling of deep gratitude to that first trip for teaching me how to make it as a doctor by taking care of myself as a person.
Katherine Hastings, MD is a clinical instructor in the University of Utah Family Medicine Residency.