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The Truth of a Community

The problem is, that I thought I was part of a community.

Maybe I was, but maybe I wasn’t.  It’s easy to pretend or to fabricate an idea that something is what you want, even when it really isn’t that way at all.

I’m not sure what is worse: being abandoned by the community you were a part of, or realizing that you weren’t really a part of it to begin with.  They are both pretty horrible realizations, and one (or both of them) are what I came face to face with last week.

I sat on the blue sofa in my psychologists office.  I already failed at my attempt to not cry but I was careful to keep the tears and sobs controlled.  She wanted to end the session with a breathing exercise to help me relax.  So, I closed my eyes and listened to her breathing instructions.
“It’s so disappointing.  It’s so unfair.  Just, so unjust.” She would say in between the queues for breathing.  These words pushed against my quivering lips, and threatened to release everything I was holding back.

The words, she repeated them over and over again.  And then the breathing and the attempts at relaxation – they just weren’t possible until I let go of everything that was holding it in.  And then I broke.

I cried harder than I’ve cried in years – maybe even since that horrible, broken day.  Finally, after 8 months of trying to make sense of it and trying to forget, I discovered the real reason why it all hurts so badly:

The place I thought I belonged wasn’t really there.  And, maybe it never was.

At some point in the past 4 years, I finally started to feel “happy.”  I had my good days and my bad days, and the days that I felt like I wanted to give up.  Despite those though, there was a part of me that felt something I’d never experienced before: a feeling of happiness and contentment.  Since working with my new psychologist, I’ve come to discover that this feeling was likely related to a sense of community and belonging – something that I’ve also never really had in my life.

It’s obvious, in a physical sense, that since I’ve moved I am no longer a part of that community.  There are some people I keep in touch with, I have met lots of new people, and I’m starting to make new friends.  It’s hard to be torn away from your social community and it can be expected that it’ll take time to re-establish that in a new city.  What I’ve ben struggling with, probably without even realizing it, is the fact that I was part of a professional community (real or imagined) that was seemingly content to see me go.

What happened to me during the residency match was unfair.  Anyone you ask would agree.  I was hard-working and dedicated to the O&G department at my medical school:  I did multiple research projects as a junior medical student – all of which I presented at national and international conferences.  I even won multiple student awards for research at conferences and as a member of national societies.  I did many electives with different members of the department, all of whom seemed impressed with my skill, interest, and dedication to learning about O&G.  Some members of the department already referred to me as their “future resident.”  I was “friends” with many of the residents already in the department… and if all that wasn’t already an indication, the program had a longstanding history of always preferentially selecting students from their own medical school before others.  

It was a shock to everyone, I think, that it happened the way it did.  A few people who didn’t know for sure, thought I *chose* to go to a different program.  However, when I told them the truth – that my home program didn’t pick me – they were shocked (and I still get that response today – from people who have just met me).  My classmates and my close friends were upset and dismayed on my behalf.  The medical school administrators were shocked and offered to “investigate” what might have happened when I told them it wasn’t my choice.  Preceptors and attending physicians from other departments thought it was stupid, and could’t believe it, and assured me that “it was their loss.”  Despite this outpouring of support from most of the people I knew, there was one place – one group of people – who never gave any indication that something went wrong: The O&G department itself.

With the exception of one person – K, my mentor and my friend – there was no one in the whole department who showed any indication that something went wrong: not a single nurse, not a single physician, not a single resident.  Everyone knew what happened, at least I’m pretty sure of it (because K told me that they knew).  Some people were polite and asked me where I was going, but when I told them that staying was my first choice, I got the generic responses like, “you’ll do great there,” or “they’re lucky to have you,” or “sometimes these things happen for a reason.”  No one was outraged, no one spoke out on my behalf, no one seemed to care that I was abandoned by their very own people.  Instead, they all continued on in silent solidarity, hiding behind the excuse that, “that’s how CaRMS works.”

Business was as usual for everyone else.  For weeks I sought out support and solace from the community that I thought had taken me in.  However, I only ever got feeble attempts at comfort and empathy.  Not a single person from that community ever expressed disappointment, or outrage, or concern that the system was unfair.  It didn’t take long for the residents who were once my “friends” to stop talking and interacting with me.  Nurses and physicians passing me in the hallway would avoid eye-contact – or else give me a sad, quick “nice to see you smile” as they scurried off to something else.  I once whet down to the labour floor to do an off-service consult, and no one said a single word to me.

K did her best to assure me that people were upset – but words only go so far.  She said that everyone just felt so horrible for what happened – but no one ever gave me that feeling.  I know how people could have been feeling: “when you don’t know what to say, maybe it’s better to not say anything.”  Often protecting yourself from discomfort means sacrificing the change to offer support to the people who need it.

But I don’t think that is all of it… There is always the politics.  And, I’m sure that the politics in the department prevented people from doing what a community is supposed to do.  The department made a decision (rather, 4 people in the department made a decision) and it is only politically correct for the department to maintain a united front.  It would be politically incorrect to suggest that your department made a mistake.  It would be frowned upon to admit that you thought something went wrong.  It would potentially cause problems and internal strife if anyone spoke out against the decision.  And unfortunately for me, support, and empathy, and understanding for me in that situation would have been discourteous on a political level.

And so the truth is, politics divide a community.  It alienates the members and prevents then from doing what they are meant to do: To support its people. 

Either that, or I was never part of that community in the first place.

And while I can’t decide which of these is true, I know that either truth has torn me apart.

12 thoughts on “The Truth of a Community

  1. Community is a funny thing. Who represents the community? Who decides who is in, and who is out? The community leaders? Followers? Members?
    You can be a part of a community, with real and important social relationships–yet still find yourself out of the community when the leaders decree it to be so.
    As the leaders decide, the members then follow, or risk splitting the community.
    Good leaders invite strong individuals to be part of their communities and create more vibrant communities.
    Weak leaders expel strong individuals who might be future threats to their leadership–or who might align with others who may immediately threaten their leadership.
    The departmental dynamics sound difficult. I am sorry you got caught and your feelings hurt. I hope you find a supportive environment with leaders who embrace you and encourage your personal and professional growth.


    1. Thanks. I think the place I am now is really great – it’s just that it always takes time to adjust and feel comfortable in a new place, and I think it also takes time to get over the hurt and disappointment. I’m not quite sure which one will take longer…


  2. I am sorry that you came to this realization now. I am glad you are working with your doctors and hopefully this will help be a real catalyst in building a community around you vs. trying to fit into one that is already established.



    1. Thanks. I think that the nature of moving for residency is a fine art of fitting into a community that is already established yet constantly changing. We are a group of people who move around and interact with new people constantly. It’s hard to say for sure where one will end up. I hope it works out that I am well included and integrated this time around!


  3. Sadly, your case isn’t the first and won’t be the last. There are countless stories like yours from every single medical school in the country. It certainly happened to a few people in my class 10 years ago, and I’ve seen it happen to physicians completing residency programs and being promised a job at the end, only to find none existed.

    You are a strong woman and will get through this.


    1. Thank-you. Sadly I’ve heard of these types of storied too. I always say, “someone has to be that story, “or “someone has to be that statistic.” It just always sucks when that someone ends up being you 😦


      1. Oh, I totally get it. You are looking at the one who didn’t match! Had to go through the second round. It was a humiliating experience, but one that in the end was the best thing that could have happened. But hindsight is 20/20. At the time I felt like a complete and utter failure.


  4. I really feel for you, and I know how it feels to be in the position of not belonging, or never having belonged in the first place. It really is enough to break you.

    But every day that you’re in your new city, you’re re-building, and you’ll be even stronger than before. Time heals. ❤


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