The end of the long adolescence

Sterling Sparshu is an Early-Career Physician who graduated from medical school and completed their residency at the University of Calgary in 2017


As I graduate from my residency program, I am struck by how much this journey has mirrored aging and development. I grew typically enough through infancy and childhood, but medical training stalled me in adolescence.

While others gradually accumulated responsibility, status, and wealth in a stepwise fashion, I have received this at a slow, then exponentially increasing rate. It seems at one moment I was a medical student; then, suddenly, I had an MD and was expected to take on so much more than only a day before. Now I will be a medical staff — but I am no longer just me. I am no longer just a student, resident, or physician. I am now a corporation. I have an accountant, a lawyer, a financial advisor... I am suddenly earning as much in a day as I used to make in a week. I have been granted tremendous power and must take on immense responsibility.

There were, of course, those along the way who tried to help make the shift less dizzying. Mentors who encouraged personal growth and maintaining a work-life balance. But how possible is this, really? Long working hours (including evenings and weekends) that are beyond your control, crushing debt, a burden of knowledge isolating you from non-medical peers, and the constant nagging feeling that at any moment you will be revealed as the fraud you fear you are... that the gaps in your knowledge will be laid bare — including, most terrifyingly, the ones you don’t even realize are there. How does one relax and just live with this ever-looming sword of Damocles tethered above your head?

But progress, and its associated pain, are inevitable. To use another aging metaphor, I began this medical life in a shapeless, pluripotent form. In time, I developed. I implanted. I found a place and grew. The more I grew, the more confined I felt — but there was always an element of encircling safety. Now, however, I am being pushed out into the world to continue to grow outside of the confines that nurtured me.

Perhaps the hardest part of graduating suddenly into adulthood is the overwhelming freedom. For the first time in my life, I can conceivably buy what I want, go where I choose, and work as I will. It is the end of the long adolescence and the birth of a long-delayed adulthood. How will I grow to fit this role without being confined by it? How will I find intimacy and generativity? How will I arrive at wisdom? More importantly, how do I combat isolation, stagnation, and despair now that I am the master of my own fate?

As I stand on the threshold of this change, I take some comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I have my family behind me, my colleagues beside me, my patients to inspire me, and my faith and training to guide me.