In case anyone was wondering, YES, it does get better. SO much better. In fact, I would say that every stage was better than the last, but being an attending with no one to answer to is a huge leap up. Yes, there is more stress associated with clinical decisions and it means I have to think harder. But after all that training (for me, 11 post-college years!) I feel well-equipped and just happy to get to be putting the skills that gradually accumulated to good use.
Specific things that are better now:
-- I can practice with the 'style' that I want. This is SO freeing! During training, you often have to tailor everything to whichever attending is on at the time, when often there are numerous "right" ways to do something.
-- I feel more attached to my patients, and they feel more attached to me. There is also better continuity since I know I'll be seeing many of them for the long haul.
-- Outsourcing "scut". I am so thankful I don't have to spend my time doing things like fishing for old records/growth charts, doing prior authorizations, or answering routine diabetes calls during the day (not that I would mind doing the latter, but there just isn't time and the certified diabetes educators at our practice are AWESOME.)
-- I am in charge of how I get my work done and how the day flows, to a degree. Of course there's still not THAT much flexibility on office days, but when I'm on call I can organize rounds the way I want.
-- I definitely feel more respected by other doctors/clinicians than I did as a trainee. This feels really nice. I think it would be hard for people who end up staying in the same location to practice as in training, because I'm not sure the same 'status bump' would happen so automatically.
-- Yes, the compensation is better. A lot better! (It would probably seem even better without a move to a city where everything is at least 2x as expensive, but I still can't complain!)
SO, if you're starting out your intern year (or gearing up to start med school), know that while the whole thing doesn't have to be torture, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Good luck!!
(for more July 1 reading material --> Vintage post (2010): Things I wished someone told me at the start of residency)