By Rachael Essig, MD
May 2019 seems like a world away. I had accepted a research position following my PGY-3 year with a critical care fellowship starting July 2020 in a new city. At the time, it seemed like the start of a beautiful adventure. Yet, fast forwarding to April 2020, while deep into the first wave of the pandemic, I was attempting to view every apartment in my new metro area online. Zillow and a realtor were lifesavers! Another difficulty was the somberness I experienced leaving my surgical family without being able to say goodbye in person. They had raised me from an intern to a capable (hopefully) junior resident. Moving your life is always painful, and combined with global pandemic, it was especially dreadful. Thankfully, the stress was worth it as my fellowship has been an amazing educational experience with truly fabulous attendings and staff.
Over the past year, COVID has taken away many things from society. One of the worst losses has been the lack of a social support system; particularly, the importance of talking about your day with your co-residents to help process daily activities. Not only was I separated from my support system from residency, but it was also nearly impossible to foster new relationships while practicing appropriate social distancing. At the beginning of my research experience, I felt overwhelmed by the sudden cessation of this aid. It had been a long time since the thoughts of such inadequacy had occurred. Finding ways to continue to connect with my friends has been critical to overcoming these feelings. One essential tool has been a text thread with co-residents sending links for real estate to brighten each other’s days. Another is zoom game nights with my medical school friends. Even less organized social time, such as chatting on the phone during drives home have been instrumental in healing my mental health. An additional critical part of research is developing a professional network. Unfortunately with social distancing, national surgical meetings have been put on hold which has hampered expanding professional contacts for future career advancement.
Research time is often depicted as a fabulous break into “real adulthood” as it often allows for more time for friends, family, and hobbies. With COVID putting a huge damper on travel, this was certainly not my experience. Nonetheless, it is with great anticipation and hope that next year brings the ability to complete great adventures beyond the walls of my apartment. In January, a new adventure began as my significant other and I welcomed a puppy into our lives. Mac is a wonderful addition to our family plus a welcomed distraction. Seeing his wiggly little butt after a long day rejuvenates my soul! Plus, I get to send picture postcard updates to my family of our adorable fur baby!
Adaptation has been key during this invaluable time allowing my clinical confidence to blossom and I would not change a thing. For my next year, I’m looking forward to returning to safe social interactions, travel, and puppy cuddles!
Rachael Essig, MD is originally from West Virginia and is a General Surgery Resident at Georgetown University-Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC currently completing her research time including a Surgical Critical Care Fellowship at University of Chicago Hospital. You can find her outside of the hospital relaxing on her apartment rooftop with her significant other, fur baby, and a glass of wine. Follow her journey on twitter @RachaelEssig.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.