by Austin Hoeg
“Honey…will you check on her, please?” Ari asked from the other room. My wife was on a date with a hot bubble bath and a glass of wine after a long day of juggling work, school, and parenting. Anya, our 4-month-old daughter who had just fallen asleep, stirred herself awake and began to fuss. I groaned. Pretending to forget the hours of lectures and thousands of flashcards that seemed always to run ahead of me, I tossed my laptop aside and obliged.
Gingerly approaching the bassinet, I rehearsed my workflow. “Pick up baby, insert pacifier, dance the two-step. Repeat. How hard ca…” A bloodcurdling scream stifled the rest of my monologue—Anya's fussing had crescendoed into a full-fledged cry. Scooping her up, I plopped her on my shoulder. As I bounced from side to side in the darkness of our room, my wandering gaze locked onto the bolded red display of the alarm clock quietly resting on our bed stand: 9:23 p.m. “If she just goes back to sleep, I might still be able to catch up tonight.” And that's when she started to scream. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened, but this one felt different. As the intensity of her tantrum grew, so did the number of minutes that slipped away. 9:33 p.m. Numbness slowly crawled through my body, dulling her wail. 9:43 p.m. My vision tunneled into the red glare of the clock. 9:53 p.m. Attempting to recenter, I closed my eyes only to find one word draped across the back of my eyelids: Inadequate. My stomach churned, and my chest tightened. Tears welled up, spilled over, and began rolling down my face. I began to cry. As my sobbing grew louder, Anya's grew softer. She turned her head to look at me. I could feel the perplexity in her eyes as she watched me fold. “Austin?” My wife rushed into the room. “Are you okay?” My breath hitched. “I can't do this…I just can't do it.”
Handing our daughter to Ari, I hurried out of the apartment to find a quiet place to loathe. Leaning back against a wall farther down the hallway, I slumped to the floor and closed my eyes. “Inadequate” still hung there, almost as if to mock me. “Fitting,” I thought to myself. This one word so flawlessly captured the perpetual state in which I found myself since starting medical school. Incapable of stomaching the deluge from the proverbial firehose. Inadequate. Leaving my wife to be a single parent while being locked in class all day. Inadequate. Failing to be a present father. Inadequate. Dropping off of the map with my friends and family. Inadequate. Not going to the gym in months. Inadequate. Inadequate. Inadequate.
If I could put my finger on the pulse, this had to be the lowest I'd felt since beginning medical school. However, it happened to be the most crucial turning point as well. It was at this moment that I came face to face with the ugly reality of what was holding me back:
When I commit to something, it's with abandon; I wholly devote my time, effort, and energy. It's when something turns into many things, however, that this paradigm starts to crumble. I want to put my wife and daughter first. I want to make good on the privilege and opportunities I've been given as a medical student. I want to invest my time wisely as I pursue relationships with friends, family, and those around me. The reality of the matter is this: As important pieces are added to my identity, I won't be able to do them all perfectly. That doesn't mean I simply throw in the towel; just because I can't do something beyond reproach isn't an excuse to do nothing. That also doesn't mean I say yes to every opportunity vying for my time; running out of margin and being spread too thin will only end up hurting myself and others along the way. There somewhere exists a middle ground. Albeit elusive, I'm motivated to find it for the sake of my wife and daughter. I'm motivated to find it for the sake of my patients and classmates. I'm motivated to find it for the sake of my friends and family. Of all things I've learned in medical school, the most important is this: Living a meaningful life is not measured in perfection—it's measured in how we steward those gifts we've been given.
University of Minnesota Medical School
Graduating Class of 2025