The Grind of Medical Training Makes Us Better Physicians

Shirlene Obuobi, MD


December 28, 2021

Recently, a follower on my Instagram platform asked me how many years it takes to become a cardiologist. Even though I pride myself on self-reflection, I realized that I didn't know the answer offhand. Together, we counted: 4 years of undergraduate education; 4 more of medical school; 3 years of internal medicine residency; and finally, 3 years of cardiology fellowship. Altogether, I'll be training for 14 years — an astounding number when I remember that I set out on this journey at 18. 

There's a reason medical training takes so long. The human body is incredibly complex, and being a doctor means remaining a student long after accepting a job as an attending. Medicine is a field that evolves; there are principles that I learned in my first year of medical school that don't apply now, and procedures that are now routine that were still undergoing trials when I was applying to residency.

The Dunning-Kruger effect, a phenomenon in which people with less knowledge on a subject overestimate their expertise and vice versa, is often referenced when discussing future physicians' confidence during different stages of training. When reflecting on my own trajectory as a trainee, I find that I've traversed a Dunning-Kruger curve of my own. To think that as a medical student, I really believed that I'd learned all there was to know about medicine within the crisp 218 pages of Pathoma (still one of the best medical resources in existence, in my opinion) is, in hindsight, an endearing misconception.

Now that I'm further along in my journey (12 years along, in fact) to becoming a cardiologist, being aware of my old cognitive biases helps me empathize more with current trainees. In a way, thinking we've got it all figured out is a protective mechanism — if we all realized that nearly every stage of training is more challenging than the last, maybe we wouldn't pursue them. But once we've completed the journey, I'm confident those same challenges will instill a special sense of pride. 


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