Wise beyond their years: three questions from teens
This month has been extraordinarily busy for me, with several work-related trips and meetings, along with my usual workload. A few weeks ago, I was invited to an event geared towards career orientation for high school students. I got the chance to talk to several groups of 11th and 12th graders who were thinking about medicine as a possible career choice. They impressed me as being wise beyond their years.
I thought most questions would be about years of study and training, different medical specialty tracks and the such. However, these kids surprised me by asking several deep questions that caught me off guard. I want to share the top three. I think they may be helpful to others considering medicine or those who have high demand jobs and have been in similar situations.
Do you ever regret being a physician?
This question was a little surprising. Not because I had never heard it before, quite the opposite. It is a very common question from non-doctors to doctors. However, I did not expect that 16 and 17 year olds would be already thinking about downsides of medicine. Certainly, I did not consider that there would be anything bad about studying medicine at that age, even though I was already considering studying medicine. In other words, they just displayed a higher level of maturity and insight. They already realized that every single situation has positives and negatives. The naïveté that I had at this age did not seem to be a part of this group of post-millennials. Furthermore, it showcases the evolving pattern that started with millennials. A pattern where quality of life takes precedent over work and job. Maybe this is part of what fuels their being wise beyond their years ?
I have already talked about my thoughts on medicine and the pro’s and con’s I see with it (here). Suffice it to say, at one point I was so disappointed with the way the medical system works, that I felt regret. I felt I was stuck in the middle of chaos. I wondered if I had made the right choice.
However, with time, I realized how fortunate I am that I had chosen this path. I had an understanding of my body that few people possess. I have a job that challenges and stimulates me mentally. Also, I am able to navigate the system when friends and families need help finding the best physician for whatever condition they have. Most importantly, I CAN SAVE LIVES. If that alone isn’t enough, I don’t know what is.
If your heart stops, if you stop breathing suddenly, I am equipped (unless the nature of your disease doesn’t allow it and/or God/nature has decided that your time is up – nobody can do anything about that) to bring you back. I know what I need to do to get your heart beating again. Even more amazing: the longer I do this, as I perform countless resuscitations on hearts across my career, I am more in tune with ebbs and flows of life. It is sad, touching, humbling and moving, all at once.
I can sense when something is off, even when things appear to be stable. In this way, I can prepare my team to respond to an impending emergency. I have learned to trust my instincts. That is to say, with experience, you develop the side of medicine that we call “art”. That feeling you get as you look at your patient, examine him/her, connect to the big picture and decide what areas of the science of medicine you need to apply.
Through the years, I have learned to fully listen to that little voice that guides me. Sometimes I don’t understand where it is coming from and, as I see things evolving, it still blows me away.
Not too long ago, I walked into the room of a patient who certainly was very ill, but not any different than she had been the previous couple of days. As I walked into the room, I looked at the patient, I inhaled and something lit up in me. The little voice told me there was something wrong. I thought for a second, “don’t be crazy, it’s probably nothing”.
Nonetheless, I went with it and asked the nurse to get the board needed to start chest compressions and bring the cart with all the resuscitation medications inside the room. She thought I was joking and laughed. However, I insisted. She looked at me like I had two heads, but went to gather the things. Quietly and thoughtfully, I stayed in the room. As equipment rolled in, I watched, unable to shake off that feeling. Then, I noticed how her heart rate started slowing and a few seconds after, her blood pressure started following suit, slowly decreasing. Immediately, I asked the nurse to start drawing up the necessary medications, and as her heart slowed to a flat line, we began chest compression. We were able to bring her back quickly because we were so prepared. Afterwards I stood there, in silent awe of what just happened.
To clarify, I am far from psychic and I definitely have no ability to predict the future. However, through experience, you start developing a sixth sense. It is, of course, not 100% and you must learn to listen. You become really good at predicting the ones that will probably be ok from the ones that are at risk for a disaster. If you are really lucky, you can get some real-time ability to anticipate the timing of said disaster. So, yes, not everything in medicine is roses. Absolutely, you face many challenges in this field. From hospital administrators to dealing with difficult personalities, it can be overwhelming. On the other hand, helping others, saving lives, giving a family their baby back? Priceless. Every. Single. Time.
Is there ever so much pressure that you want to quit?
When I was training, drowning in night calls, sleep-deprived, spending hours admitting one patient after another and being massacred the morning after by my teaching physicians if I had not managed a patient perfectly, hell yeah, I wanted to quit. I wanted to run away screaming. On more than one occasion, I wanted to drop 3 F-bombs, give them the bird and walk out. I was fortunate enough, though, to have a tribe of residents to commiserate with. In addition, two close friends who had been in medical school with me were now with me in residency. My two friends were my saving grace. They became my sisters. We took care of each other.
I remember one particularly bad night I had a few months into residency. My supervising resident went to sleep and left me alone to care for the patients on the floor and do the 11 admissions that were down in the ER. I spent the entire night answering pages, running between the emergency room and the floor, writing orders, drawing bloods, checking on patients. By morning, I had been up since 5am the previous day. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I couldn’t do it anymore.
At 5:30am, one of my sister-friends was coming to relieve me. She came in with a cup of Cuban coffee for me. I crumbled on a chair when I saw her and started bawling. I still had two admissions to do. She listened, she said don’t worry, finish up here and I will help with the admits. It’s funny how sometimes a simple word or the presence of a friend is we need to rise up.
I felt so thankful and, that morning, I realized that training only lasted for a finite time period. I remembered Navy seals and the grueling training they undergo. This was nothing compared to that. Plus, I had my support system, my two girls ready to lift me up when I was a crumpled heap of scrubs on the floor and the rest of my co-residents. So, we all did it, we survived residency, amidst tears and frustrations sometimes, but we did it. I have never felt the pressure to be so unbearable since. I have the support of a strong tribe, an uplifting tribe. That makes all the difference.
Do you ever feel alone and/or unsupported?
This one made me smile. I don’t know of a single human who has never felt alone or unsupported at one time or another. I think loneliness is part of the human condition, even with friends and family, we all feel a little lonely sometimes, regardless if you are in medicine or some other field. And unsupported? I think this one is inherent of the female condition.
I was fortunate to grow up in a supportive environment. Surrounded by family who taught me that I was capable of doing whatever I wanted, the sky was the limit. However, as I went out in to the world, I saw that wasn’t always the case. From male mentors who made me feel objectified when I was doing a case presentation in medical school by commenting on the “great fit” of my suit. Still, others made inappropriate comments as I learned how to perform a prostate exam. Then there was the boss who though I was changing jobs because of the strong “call of motherhood”, not realizing that I was leaving because I felt I had no growth potential there (since only the males were the ones going up in the ranks).
So, yes, I have felt alone and unsupported. However, a better question is: What are you going to do when you feel alone or unsupported? As I have learned, you reach out for your tribe. You lose the fear of speaking up and point out the problem (believe it or not, some people are clueless). Also, you figure out a way to get that cheerleader/mentor that will offer support and help you grow. They are out there, sometimes you just have to look for bit before you find them.
In the end
And there you have it, three pretty great questions raised by a group of teens pondering about their future. Already wise beyond their years, as they try to figure what will be the best choice for their life. I loved helping out in this activity and I look forward to answering more questions from these young minds in the future.
Have an amazing week and remember to subscribe if you haven’t already.