Existential Crisis: A Medical Nomad Lifestyle

Medical Nomad

My grandfather was a farmer. He inherited his land from his father, who had inherited it from his father before him, going back generations. They were all buried a 10-minute walk away at the edge of the village. So when my father decided to move us to the US, for reasons somewhat beyond his control, it was unusual; not unheard of, just unusual, especially for our family.  

Years later, I got accepted to undergrad in the US and had to leave my father’s house. It was a rough start, but by the end of second year, I was adjusting well. I settled into my core group of friends during junior year. I ramped up my course load to bump up my GPA in preparation for medical school. I applied and was luckily accepted. By the end of my senior year, I was excited for my next step in life. I didn’t go to my college graduation.  

I HATED my medical school. It was an awful medical school and everyone was corrupt…think multiple faculty arrests. I was lonely and depressed. I had my own place for the first two years but for my clinicals I bounced around. I rotated in 4 different cities across 3 states. I couch-surfed. I wore down the tread on the tires of my 2008 Camry, and I slept in it a few nights. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. When the MATCH came around, I found I matched into my #4 spot. I was discouraged but thankful. The few med school rotations after the MATCH were unbearably long. I thought about skipping graduation again just to avoid going back to the school. My parents wouldn’t hear it. I begrudgingly walked.  

I didn’t mind my residency program. It was a good program. Good education. The clinical load wasn’t too bad. I liked my small apartment and my new resident friend group. I won a few poker nights. I even started a ROTH IRA. It was tolerably imperfect. For example, I didn’t love the driving; I rotated between 2 hospital systems that were merging (with two different EMRs) and of course, the VA. The hospitals were an hour apart and I lived in the middle. My Camry finally gave out with 234,000 miles. RIP. 

And finally, when COVID hit during my last year it jumbled everything. My meticulously planned last few rotations of outpatient clinic, rheumatology, outpatient clinic, research, research, turned into ICU, ICU, off, ICU, ICU. These months made the residency unrecognizable. We couldn’t hang out except when on ICU together. Graduation was canceled. I got a certificate of gratitude in the mail from the Program Director printed on printer paper. 

Fellowship was next. It is a good program, academic, collegial, but with the expected air of arrogance that comes with an ivory tower institution. I learned a lot. Made good friends and great connections. Of course, there are some bad actors: an annoying Program Director, regular medical training program, call. Nothing that was unmanageable. But now, with 4 months to go, and 7 years into my medical training, I can’t wait to be done.  

My next job seems great. I am genuinely excited to start. It is in a good location, good pay, decent benefits. Seemingly good work-life balance. I am sure it has its short-comings and conflicts (as with everything). Nowhere is perfect. I know that. I am not disillusioned. But now my fear is this: What if after a few years of being there I get the same itch to leave? What if I never find a place to throw down my roots and settle? 

My worries stem from the fact that I (much like everyone else in the same boat) have been a nomad for so many years. I jumped around so much, rotation to rotation, hospital to hospital, city to city, office to office, year to year. Besides the Camry, nothing has been mine. Every apartment I rented has been temporary. Every couch I crashed on. The patients weren’t mine, the clinic schedule, the desk, the chair with the lumbar support, the computer they gave us, the white coat, the grocery story with the eggs at the end of aisle 2 on the back wall. Always changing.

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  • No, not Matt Czuchry, from hit TV show, The Resident. Just an anonymous resident who has chosen to remain unnamed.

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