This post originally appeared on the AAFP’s Leader Voices Blog on Friday, June 21, 2013.
I recently had laser eye surgery, which means I no longer need glasses. Finally! It also should mean no more jokes comparing me to Harry Potter — unless people visit my apartment.
Although J.K. Rowling’s bespectacled boy wizard had a bed in a tiny room under the stairs, my new bedroom is in a tiny room above the stairs. To be exact, it’s 6-by-10. The ceiling is so low, I can’t stand up. But there is just enough room to lie down.
What about my room downstairs? That space features a desk and, well, that’s it — unless you count the closet.
Of course, there is more to my new home than just a bed and a desk. There also is a shared kitchen, shared living area and shared bathroom. If you’re in the market for an apartment, my housemate — a 60-year-old retired limo driver — and I are looking for a third person to share our limited space.
Why would a young, single physician willingly pick such a Spartan place?
Welcome to my life as a resident, complete with medical school debt. I plan to save as much money as possible during the next five years because that’s how long it will take me to complete the combined family medicine and psychiatry residency at St. Vincent de Paul’s Family Health Center, a medical clinic in a homeless shelter that is affiliated with the University of California, San Diego.
My new apartment will cost me only $600 a month — less than half the price of a decent one-bedroom apartment in this coastal city.
As for the space under the stairs, that’s where my bicycle will be stored when I’m not using it for the five-mile ride to work. The bike figures to get plenty of work since it’s in better shape than my 1997 Honda Civic and costs a lot less to operate. The car — following the 1,800-mile, six-state drive from St. Louis — now has more than 114,000 miles on it.
The four-day trek — interrupted by a family vacation in Denver — just about finished off the Civic. The car overheated in the Nevada desert and had to be serviced before I could complete my journey.
After that, the Civic’s temperature gauge stayed in the normal range. But, just to be safe, I was on the road each morning by 4 a.m. and stopped during the hottest part of the day. My modest goal was for the Civic to make it to San Diego.
Luckily, it held together, which allowed me to experience the joys of California traffic. (I already found out that driving in San Diego is nothing compared to driving in Los Angeles, though.)
So, why am I here? Last fall, I completed a four-week rotation at St. Vincent de Paul’s. Although I interviewed with more than a dozen residency programs, I knew I wanted to return to San Diego. When I matched into St. Vincent de Paul’s — my first choice of residencies — in March, I was thrilled.
After the long drive west, I finally arrived last Thursday. The first thing I did was head for the ocean, where I soaked my feet in the surf. Standing there in the wet sand, the change in scenery was striking. The beach and palm trees reminded me that I am a long way from home, and things are about to change in a big way.
Orientation at my residency begins next week, and I’ll start training on our electronic health records system, receive instruction in emergency management and listen to pearls of wisdom from current residents. Clinical rotations start July 8.
My situation is an odd mix of purgatory and vacation. I am nervous, excited and eager for my new life to start. At the same time, I am trying to take in as much of my new city and have some fun while I can before I am expected to work 60 to 80 hours a week.
I have been to a production of Les Miserables, and I plan to visit Balboa Park soon. There will be opportunities to meet and build rapport with my fellow residents at social events. I already attended a hot yoga class with the outgoing chief resident. Never in my life have I sweated so much — not even in an overheated car in the Nevada desert.
I’ve made it this far. I feel like I’m ready for whatever comes next.