It’s been a minute, as the Baltimorean’s say, but I still remember my first day of residency. I knew next to nothing about ophthalmology but showed up smiling and eager to learn. I felt incredibly fortunate to be training at such a prestigious institution. I was awed by the distinguished faculty, and my co-residents couldn’t be any more impressive. In short, I wasn’t sure I belonged.
It’s been a minute, as the Baltimorean’s say, but I still remember my first day of residency. I knew next to nothing about ophthalmology but showed up smiling and eager to learn. I felt incredibly fortunate to be training at such a prestigious institution. I was awed by the distinguished faculty, and my co-residents couldn’t be any more impressive.
In short, I wasn’t sure I belonged.
The first person who gave me confidence was Cathy, our residency program coordinator, who recognized my insecurity immediately.
“Everyone who shows up here is intimidated, just like you. But in the first year, you’ll learn a ton. By the second year, the residents are darn good doctors. And by third year, some are downright arrogant!” Cathy said, followed by her usual boisterous laugh.
“You’re going to be great. Just don’t lose that smile!”
Those words lifted me in the moment and inspired a positive attitude throughout my training.
Ask anyone and they’ll say that Cathy was absolutely buoyant. She was the beating heart of our residency program. She provided a listening ear, always shared needed words of encouragement, and had a laugh so loud it would literally reverberate down the halls.
Does that description remind you of anyone? I hope so, because we desperately need more people like Cathy to bring us back together. Life can be tough and intimidating, and our society has become increasingly digitized and polarized. Nondescript emojis have replaced the uniqueness of our physical smiles, and too often we glamorize our best moments to hide what is most raw but real. Automated algorithms amplify what we like rather than exposing us to what we need, and relationships have become depersonalized, making it easier to tear others down rather than lifting them up.
Medicine, unfortunately, is not immune to these problems. Although we are intrinsically caring people, we are also nonetheless stubbornly rooted in hierarchical culture, and the intensity of our work environments can exacerbate societal stressors.
That’s why people like Cathy are so important. Sure, Cathy was not some world famous faculty member, but she taught me to see the best in people without ignoring the bad, and to lift others up whenever you can. These lessons were far more valuable than many of the esoteric clinical pearls I collected during residency or certainly factoids I memorized (and promptly forgot) for standardized tests.
Recently, I was immensely saddened to hear of Cathy‘s sudden passing. She was the thread that wove us together, so it was hard not to feel unraveled. But as news spread through our ophthalmology family, many colleagues and friends reached out, including some I had not heard from in years. It gave us a reason to reminisce and reconnect, to encourage each other wherever we are, and to look forward to seeing each other again sometime soon. How fitting that Cathy’s parting gift to us was to knit us together more tightly.
Let’s do more of that—connecting in ways that are personal, purposeful, and encouraging—in honor of those who lift us.
We miss you, Cathy! Our world is much brighter because of you. Keep floating ever upwards and lifting us with you. I’m sure your laugh is filling up the heavens.