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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(1):248-249

It was early afternoon on Christmas Eve. As a third-year resident I enjoyed the luxury of taking calls from home. The gas logs blazed as I lounged in my recliner and watched television with the beeper on the table. Suddenly, the power went out. Faced with a blank television screen, I looked for something else to do.

I began to organize a mountain of loose papers and pictures that were taking over my desk. Buried amidst the year-old materials was my old sketchpad. As I sat back and flipped through the completed sketches, I noticed that the last entry was from 1992, the year I had taken time off from medical school to do research. Had it really been that long?

I decided to attempt to sketch what I had recently seen on a Sunday afternoon getaway in the mountains. Faced with the blank white page, I tried to visualize the knoll where I sat, gazing across a broad area of the river to a point where some birds were roosting. It was a serene overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway I found while looking for a quiet place to contemplate my post-residency plans. As I sat on the rocky face, I remember thinking what a great picture it would make. A grassy knoll spread out like a blanket as the foreground. The large blue-brown flowing water looked like a slowly moving highway dividing me from the rolling hills beyond. I had studied the scene carefully, entranced by the beauty, while avoiding the uncertainty of what my future would be.

With a few quick strokes, feeling somewhat awkward at first, I began. Visualizing the scene proved easier than drawing it. There were several restarts and erasures before I began to feel more comfortable. The process was more difficult and frustrating than I remembered. I could see the details vividly, but getting them to take form on paper didn't flow as easily as it used to. After about 30 minutes, I was done, or at least I had translated everything to paper that I could. As I looked over the finished product I was somewhat frustrated; the image was not the vivid picture in my mind.

As with most others desiring to advance in the world, I tried to be a “well-rounded” student by developing a creative, liberal arts side to complement my more regimented academic side. I enjoyed sketching. While no Andrew Wyeth, I was able to create pictures that conveyed the image I wanted. To me, my sketches were not just captured images of people or places, but were reflections of some memory that couldn't be put forth in a mere photograph. But the time demands of medical school and early residency chiseled away devotion to other personal interests, such as practicing the saxophone or playing basketball, until I found myself a one-dimensional creature rather than a renaissance man. I am dismayed that too many former “talents” have become “past interests.”

That evening the power came back on, and the remainder of the call night was uneventful except for a few outside calls. After making rounds the next morning, I thought back to the previous day's events. I wondered how many David Sanborns and Ansel Adamses were never discovered because of the demanding time constraints of the medical profession. Medicine is a constant challenge. Like every other person I've met in this field, I want to be a good doctor. In that desire lies an inherent demand to keep abreast of an ever-changing knowledge base. Beyond that, I also want to give back to my community, make contributions beyond my profession, have time for a family, to be a good husband and father, and I want time for myself. As I review these goals, I realize that currently there is quite a gap between what I desire and what I have achieved.

So, as I complete this last phase of my training, an unusual situation provided me with a rare moment to reflect. Over the past seven years, I've made many sacrifices with time, family and energy. Looking back, I wouldn't change the direction of my life, but I would have made a stronger attempt to hold on to those “well-rounded” corners. If I can't rekindle these interests and balance my life now, I fear it will only grow more difficult with the added responsibilities of a practice, a wife and children. Over time, I also realize the balances of life will have to be readjusted again and again. While I am very happy that this is my chosen career, it shouldn't be my whole life. Approaching a new year and a new time in my life, my New Year's resolution is to spend more time redeveloping some of those talents that are hidden deep within. I just hope I haven't waited too long.

This quarterly department features essays written by medical students and family practice residents. Contributing editors are Amy Crawford-Faucher, M.D., a family practice resident at the Fairfax (Va.) Family Practice Residency Program, Sumi Makkar, M.D., resident representative to the Family Practice Editorial Board and Terrence J. Joyce, student representative to the editorial board.

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