By Jordan Knox, MD
Occasionally I’ve been wondering: What would I be doing if I weren’t in medicine? Usually on some of my darker days, because let’s face it: as much of a privilege as it is to care for other people, there are times when you just aren’t enjoying it as much. So I ask myself, what would I rather be doing?
There’s the childhood dream of being an astronaut, or a tiger trainer in the circus, or a rock star musician. Not really too likely. I also consider something much more practical, like being a grocery store clerk or being a receptionist for an office building. But I really don’t have any experience with what it would be like day in and day out, so it’s hard to really picture myself in that role as a realistic option. Then I start to think about the things that I do actually know about, so I look at my hobbies. That’s where I get into trouble. I have a hard time thinking of current hobbies.
I used to do a lot. High school was probably the peak of extra-curricular activity. And I would ride my own coattails through applications to college, to medical school, and into residency. I love drumming, I like sports, I love exercising. Reading. Cooking. I love to travel. But how often am I really doing those things during residency? Looking at the actual time spent each day doing things, there should be plenty of opportunity to engage in outside hobbies and interests. The sad part is, I’m usually too tired to do them. Is it because I’ve lost interest in them, so it feels like a chore to keep doing it? Will it cause me too much effort to participate in it because I’m out of practice?
The more I reflect on it, however, I find that the things I do enjoy end up sneaking their way back into the week: decorating a birthday cake, planning a trip for the upcoming vacation 4 months down the road, or doodling during lectures (I’m not saying I do this, but I’ve seen it out of the corner of my eye once or twice). When everything aligns, it’s not hard to pick up an old hobby – when it was sunny and warm out, and my circadian rhythm put me at my most energetic in the late morning and the clinic was closed for the afternoon, I found myself putting on shorts and running shoes and going for a long, leisurely jog – without expending any mental energy to MAKE myself go. It just sort of happened.
To me, hobbies are like creating art. You can force yourself to make something, but the really good, inspired works tend to happen when everything just fits into place, and the poem writes itself or the painting seems to just flow from the paintbrush. Same thing happens when I find myself picking up where I left off with a hobby. I don’t regularly schedule time to practice anything like drumming or baking, but the times that I pick it up spontaneously are often the times I perform the best.
But the more I think about that, the more I realize what I do practice regularly: medicine. It now feels oddly natural to be spending the majority of my day stressing out about how I could do better and where I need to improve in terms of my performance providing medical care. In fact, it has become so natural that eventually I realize that while it may not be easy, and although it’s not fun all the time, I really can’t picture myself in a career doing anything else.
Jordan Knox is an Family Medicine Intern Resident in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.