Dr. Meghan MacLean Weir is not afraid to admit her faults. In fact, in her debut book, 'Between Expectations: Lessons From A Pediatric Residency,' she boldly goes where other physicians fear to tread -- into a candid description of her struggles as a pediatric resident at Children's Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center.
We take for granted that our doctors are confident, highly-skilled and well-trained. In this rare memoir, Weir opens up about her personal trials as a struggling pediatric resident who felt let down, overwhelmed and frustrated that medical school had not taught her everything she needed to know to help guide others through the health care system.
Writing through her own experiences
Even with all the unforgiving aspects of her duties and rounds as a resident faced with death, illness and children, Weir uses the writing of her book as a therapeutic exercise to not only help process her own daily experiences and emotions, but also as a way to share what she learned with others and to tell the story of some very brave and interesting families.
There are a lot of other books that give glimpses into what it's like to be in medicine, but none like this. "In choosing the families that I wrote about, I selected children that I felt had been through special moments and experiences," Weir says. "Moments I didn't want to lose because of rounds or paperwork. As you are going through it, you don't always realize the power of it."
Weir learned lessons day in and day out in her profession, but the three most valued ones were: to know when to ask for help, to learn to adjust our expectations and to acknowledge that there are things that we can do for families in a hospital setting to help them mourn the loss of a child.
Ask for help
"It [asking for help] is not a failure. Sometimes asking for help is the best thing we can do," says Weir. Over and over, the resident was reminded that she does not have superhuman powers and that just because she is a doctor, she cannot be expected to know everything all the time; she did not feel "prepared to do the job that was expected of us when we were done."* Clearly, being a doctor is a learning curve and a constant process.
Adjust your expectations
Not every medical school graduate fits into the same perfect doctor mold when they begin their residency, and that is OK. It's about finding what works best for you as a doctor and as a person, so that you can have success in both areas. Meghan came about this realization the hard way -- by living through it. As a three-year resident, she had barely started her internship before she felt unhappy. Weir knew that residency was a wonderful opportunity to learn, but she quickly felt the effects of being spread too thin and says that like many other residents, she "rarely had time to appreciate this privilege."*
To remedy this situation and her feelings of "not being able to make it," Weir requested a modified schedule and was granted the right to work 12 weeks on and four weeks off, ultimately finding that much desired work-life balance.
Appreciate what you have
Understanding death and what families with terminally ill children go through was not something Meghan fully comprehended until she was working in the hospital setting. To paint a picture for the reader about just how hard it is to not know everything as a doctor, Weirtalks about how she treated babies and sick children all the time, but "knew absolutely nothing about babies, before I got to take care of my own."*
The valuable lesson these featured families have to offer is one about being informed and more knowledgeable. "I hope that the life and death situations that these families are in is compelling and I hope that readers feel some connection to these families in some way so that they can appreciate their own lives a little more."
Drawbacks to being a doctor
"I sometimes wish I could go to an office job and check off things from my to-do list, but when you are a doctor you never know how each day will go," says Weir. For many people, not having a regimented schedule or sense of absolute knowledge about your job is a major turnoff and too scary to contemplate, but Weir believes that its part of what helps drive her to go back every day -- because for her, having just one thing in this world to call her own (being a mother, being a doctor, being married, etc.) is just not sufficient. "I get to talk to families all day and work with babies and I think that is pretty cool too."
Next, Weir is working on a collection of short fiction stories with recurring characters from a hospital setting, and blogging about parenting and medicine on her personal blog, advancedmaneuvers.blogspot.com.
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*Quotes followed by an asterisk were taken directly from Dr. Weir's book