Is being a doctor worth the struggle? Here is this physician’s opinion
Such hard questions..
I am often asked, by both new and old friends, about being a physician. Is being a doctor worth the struggle? How do you like it? Would you do it again? These are such loaded questions for me. To be honest, I am not sure I can answer them with a simple yes or no. Practicing medicine is so complicated. There are so many things I love about it, but there are also so many things I wish I could change.
Naturally, all jobs have good and bad things, and we all have challenges to overcome in the workplace. I have no doubt about that. However, I also believe practicing medicine adds another layer to this issue. So let’s break it down:
Is being a doctor worth the struggle?
From an intellectual standpoint, solving medical puzzles is extremely rewarding and stimulating. When you receive a severely ill patient and you are able to help them, to heal them, nothing is more rewarding. When you see them walk out of the hospital; that is truly priceless. This was actually one of the first things that drew me to medicine: the ability to help others heal. I could make a difference in somebody’s life.
Then there are the health connections, huge perk if you ask me. Of course, in any job you will make connections with the people in your field. However, what could be better than making a connection with healers from all different specialties? When you or your family members get sick, you can easily find the best person to treat that illness. If you don’t know them, somebody in your network will. Even if you have the rarest condition out there, you will find the top expert. Not only that, somebody will help you contact them.
In addition, as I do this for a longer time, I have come to appreciate more and more the “life” aspect of my job. What do I mean? Every time I start to feel bad about something going on in my life, something comes up at work that sets me straight. I realize, naaaawww my “problem” is not really a problem.
One of the unexpected aspects that I love the most about this job is perspective. Medicine has given me a perspective on life that few other jobs (actually, are there any?) could provide. It has shown me to value what is truly important. Sure, I get bogged down in the daily BS, just like the next person. However, when I catch myself going there, I remind myself and cut it out. In the ICU, not a day goes by without a reminder about the fleeting nature of life.
“Guess what?” I think to myself, “this could be your last day today, how are you going to live it?” Just this week, I had 2 patients with terminal conditions waiting to die. To add to the pain, three physicians from our community of physician mothers died suddenly due to unexpected bleeding in their brains. FLEETING I tell you. Every day I wake up, I understand and appreciate the gift that it is.
Also, in the particular branch of medicine that I practice, I have gained an understanding of life and death that many people lack. I look at the monitors as some of my patients take their last breaths, the little waves that represent their breaths becoming smaller and far between. I see the ticking of their hearts as they slow down to nothing but a flat line. Finally, I see their bodies as that last little bit of air leave their lungs. I have also observed all the different mechanisms families have as their loved ones leave our terrestrial world.
However, I have also been able to witness miracles happen. When even I have been convinced that somebody has no salvation, I have been brought down to my knees and humbled by the universe. “You know nothing” it tells me, remember that. I still don’t understand how physicians can be anything, but humble (yeah, I know there are quite a few ego’s out there in doc world, but I just don’t get it). So many end of life stories, so many sad, yet sometimes incredible things I have witnessed. You may think all of this is depressing. It is sometimes very sad, but it is really all in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps it seems odd, as most people equate medicine with science, but being in medicine also renews my faith. It reminds me that there is something more out there. A greater force exists. Some people call it God, some people call it the universe or a myriad of other names, depending on your belief system.
Bottom line, we are all connected and there is something more out there. When you are able to see the beginning and the end of life, when you see the cycle repeat over and over, you start to see the connections. Most of us get tethered down by the daily grind. We lose sight of the big picture. Nothing like seeing a mother holding her child for the first time and seeing another mother holding her child for the last time, as he/she leaves this earth. It gets you out the “me” mentality and you are able to understand our humanity. In spite of the emotional pain that comes with my job, this is one aspect that I really appreciate and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Flip Side
But then there is the flip side of all the good things. I don’t think these negate all the things I love, and it is why I can’t really give a straight answer to the question: Would you do it again? Nonetheless, it brings up other questions.
Is being a doctor worth the anger?
As a woman, in the male dominated field of medicine, I have received more than my share of slaps in the face. We are certainly an oppressed group, from being paid less money to being promoted less frequently than our male colleagues who are equal or even less experienced than us. Research suggests that female physicians, on average, earn 26.5% less than their male counterparts. I have personally experienced this gender income difference and it really makes my blood boil. However, we aren’t special in that regard, women are underpaid across the board in pretty much all industries, when compared to our male counterparts.
Is being a doctor worth the stress?
Then there is the thing that bothers me the most, which is the “business” of medicine. You see, when you decide to become a physician, most of us do it because we want to help others and potentially leave this world a little better than we found it. This is not what the business of medicine prioritizes. Regrettably, at the end of the day, I found that medicine is a business like any other.
Insurances, exploiting both patients and physicians, are a big part of the business of medicine. Also, if you work for a hospital or a big practice, you can really see this in action. It is all about maximizing money: getting your physicians to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. There is little to no appreciation. Forget about anyone hearing or considering your opinions on how to make things better. It is with these demands and abuses from the system, combined with long hours and stress, that doctors become jaded and burn out. We lose so many amazing physicians because they decide to change careers in search of better work life balance. To be honest, you can’t blame them.
So, another way of phrasing the question is: would I want my child to do this job? Well, yes and no. If she could do this part time, learn all the things I have learned, not just in terms of the mechanics of the human body, but more importantly, about the mechanics of our humanity, of life and the universe, absolutely. However, I also don’t want her to be abused by the system or to struggle with quality of life. I worry that these things may become even worse as medicine continues to evolve with our ongoing problems and crisis. I suppose in the end, we all have to pick what is right for us. She will have to make her own choices when the time comes. I will support and respect whatever that is.
So, would I do it again? I don’t know 🤷🏻♀️. The only thing I can knowingly say is: thank you medicine for keeping me humble, keeping it real and letting me see the soul of our humanity.
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Thanks for reading and good health to you and yours,