“The whole is better than the sum of its parts,” is spot on when it comes to the art of practicing medicine.

As a resident physician, I spent three challenging years learning to be a team player. At the beginning, this was a difficult concept to grasp. I had spent the previous four years in medical school learning to stand out amongst my gifted peers and improve my class rank. Despite this, the importance of the team was immediately evident and almost palpable during the beginning of residency.

Residency taught me how incredible “the team” was in both medicine and in life. I learned how much we could accomplish, achieve and excel as a team. Together, we had power to create amazing change and impact lives. The power team I become part of during those three years was nothing short of amazing.

When I started my training, I was encompassed by the emotion that came along with my work. Through my patients and their stories, I witnessed pure joy and miraculous events. However, I also saw heartbreaking loss and debilitating illnesses. The good and the bad came in waves that first year of residency. I would frequently find myself mentally preparing before entering a patient room, telling myself to calm down, or just hold it together. I remember in the darkness of that Cleveland winter, about six months into my internship, mental and physical exhaustion set in. During those months I reflected and looked at the people around me, realizing my own team.

My team was the residents and friends I had spent countless hours with existing inside the walls of my training hospital. My team was the reason that year turned into a beautiful, powerful year of growth which helped me to find my confidence. They were the people who provided a smile, advice and understanding of those incredible years of training. Shared with the warmth of my family and close childhood best friends, I had found a truly amazing team.

One of the blessings in my life has been my ability to feel complete and, sometimes embarrassingly, true joy. Since starting residency, these moments have increased exponentially and often spontaneously found me, moving me beyond words. I have experienced pure joy in the patients I care for and the colleagues I work with. I am so thankful for these moments and the passion they provide to my medical career.

So often in residency, I eagerly invited friends to my apartment. Whether to talk about the grind of the week, interesting patients, or gossip about the best dates, it was the togetherness that made those times so special. So often there was no grand meal or gesture to offer. Sometimes it was just a mix of whatever cheese, vegetables, and fruit I had in my refrigerator graciously assembled on my wooden appetizer board. The mixed carrots, the lackluster celery, the stinky blue cheese, all so strange on their own became part of something beautiful and a staple of the gathering. Paired with good company, and perhaps a bottle of wine, these simple get-togethers grew into a wonderful thing over the years.

Something profound that I have realized through my career, is that we all have our team. Life is about the people we surround ourselves with and forge relationships with. Mine is frequently found gathering around a wooden appetizer board or a truly sick patient. They are the people in my life that give me purpose and help me to find joy and good in others. They challenge me to be a better person and a better physician. They remind me that with hard work and kindness, we are capable of incredible things. Gathering with these people is powerful, moving and nothing short of amazing. My team is truly a beautiful, beautiful thing.

(If you would like to make your own appetizer board to share with your team, please find my recipe here: So Much More Than a Cheeseboard )