Does Life Really Get Instantly Better When Done With Medical Training?

Everybody knows that it takes a super long time to become a doctor.

In fact, it’s soooo long that there are official names to the years you spend in residency and fellowship such as PGY-N, where N = the number of years after medical school. For instance, PGY1 mean post-graduate year 1, PGY2 means post-graduate year 2, and so on.

After training comes attendinghood.

However, there are no official names for the years during attendinghood.

There is no PGY-infinity.

It’s just called real life 🤷‍♀️😀

Without a name to call the attending years, some spouses began using the hashtag #itgetsbetter to denote the end of the tunnel of medical training, as in, they are in “IGB” because life gets better.

The history of IGB came from the anticipation that things will “get better” when training is over.

These are some ways where your quality of life is expected to improve:

  • Weekend and holiday shifts will decrease
  • Salary will drastically increase
  • Student loan debt will be eliminated
  • You don’t have to move anymore at the whim of the Match
  • You can go back to school or start a new career
  • You can stop sharing one car
  • You can start (or continue to grow) a family
  • You can move closer to family
  • …and a million things you had to sacrifice or hold back in your life for your DrSpouse to succeed during training

It’s no surprise that #itgetsbetter started to catch on virally and created a sub-culture in medicine!

After all, we all have dreams about what we’d do when medical training is over. Some of them are big, some are small.

I have big dreams like early financial independence and leaving a legacy for my kids. I also dream of what it would be like to go to Whole Foods and be able to eat at their hot bar without worrying about how much my food weighed! 😂

As the use of IGB became more popular, here’s the real question all of us still in training are wondering:

“Does it actually get instantly better in attendinghood?!”

I can provide a partial answer to this question.

Our family spent exactly one year as an attending between my husband’s 1st and 2nd fellowship. He was an internal medicine hospitalist. We call this a vision of the Ghost of Attending Future. Then we “woke up from that vision” when he went back to training as a fellow again.

So we had but a taste of what was to come!

Let me share what I saw and learned that year as we get to the bottom of what IGB was like for us.

Closer Look at Attendinghood

We all know that attendinghood gets significantly FINANCIALLY better because your salary increases 4 to 10 times than it was while in training.

That’s a huge jump!

Aaaaand you do a happy dance.

The thing is, NOT everything gets better because money is NOT the only problem you will have.

We learned that when you go from training to attendinghood:

  • You still have family problems. (Your mother-in-law is still passive-aggressive.)
  • Your family still won’t understand your finances. (Now that you make more, they will wonder why you won’t lend money to them.)
  • Your parents age and now you’re dealing with their new problems like dementia or health issues.

All you did was trade one set of problems with another; they just happen to be different kinds of problems.

It is naive to think that money will solve all of your problems.

I believe the more accurate hashtag when your DrSpouse becomes an attending is #itgetsdifferent 😀

Now, I’m not against the use of or am offended by the #itgetsbetter hashtag. It’s NOT incorrect, at least not financially.

The only problem I have is only if #itgetsbetter makes you hold out on happiness until attendinghood.

And THAT’S not cool.

Dr. Cory S. Fawcett says in his award-winning book, Smart Career And Alternative Retirement:

“Tomorrow’s hopes should not steal today’s joy.”

What Should We Do Instead?

As of this writing, we are still in medical training years ourselves. If you are also still in medical training, too, I am right with you.

The best way I’ve dealt with the challenging moments is to stop and cherish the good that does happen each day:

  • The embrace my husband gives me right at that perfect spot on my neck
  • Child #1 looking at the mirror and being fascinated at the hole where his missing tooth was
  • The way Child #3, still a toddler, puts her hands on her hips and tries to mimic me
  • Child #2’s artwork that he brings home and tries to explain what he drew
  • The hot tea that I make at night before bed while in my pajamas

Medical life is a journey, NOT a trip that ends with a destination.

While medical training is super hard, all stages of medicine will be gone as fast as it came.

Rachel Hollis said in her book:

“One of the most awful, beautiful things about the hard seasons is that unless we experience hardship, we’ll never truly appreciate and remember the good that was always good.”

Make Your Happiness Now: #itsgoodnow

No matter what stage of the medical journey you’re in, #itsgoodnow, friend.

In Summary

If you’re still in training, remember this:

When you’re alone every weekend, night, and holiday, putting kids to bed solo, your house looks like a toy store exploded, your car is a piece of junk just holding on to get through residency, this is just a season. 

Just like you can’t buy candy corn in May, this season will be gone as fast as it came.

When you look back, you will remember and cherish the good you had during training.

Because it’s not good later. It’s good NOW, friend.

I’m a hugger. I’m hugging and supporting you ❤️

To your strong medical family,