We do not remember days, we remember moments.
One of our children recently started medical school. The realization that my son has taken the first steps down the same path I began long ago has yet to fully settle in me.
Most people immediately exclaim, “You must be so proud!” and, of course, we are. We are enormously proud. He has worked hard to arrive at this point. He has been dedicated. He truly understands the concept of delayed gratification. Having grown up in a medical family, it is still quite remarkable that he applied to medical school in the first place.
Some physicians have been less encouraging. “What was he thinking? I would never let my child be a doctor!” The unhappy ones cite how the practice of Medicine has changed, be it Medicare, declining reimbursements, HIPAA, politics, commercialization, interference with “the doctor-patient relationship,” or the burgeoning documentation requirements.
As physicians, we are often reminded that our profession is partly to blame for our country’s unsustainable growth in the cost of medical care, and we are painfully aware that many of our patients are one serious illness away from being homeless. We have spent our careers at the front lines of this mess and now the next generation, including my own son, will be thrown into the fray.
So, it makes me pause and wonder: Why are people still attracted to our profession? And why do I still love it?
Medical school aspirants often declare that they dream of “having a real impact on people,” or “making a difference every day.” Those sentiments reflect the narrative we continuously tell ourselves. Some days, I doubt the dream. Nevertheless, I still find it remarkable that even basic medical encounters can offer intense person-to-person interactions that do not exist in other vocations.
Of course, there are times when clinical interactions leave either the doctor or the patient disappointed. No one is happy. “He missed my cancer for months, despite what I told him about my symptoms.”
“She would feel better if she would quit smoking and lose weight, but has made no meaningful attempt to change her old habits.”“I have spent a small fortune on tests and treatments and feel worse than ever.”
"She never even filled the prescription.” “The doctor didn’t look at me, never examined my sore leg, and spent the entire visit typing on her computer.”
"He missed half of his appointments and never called to reschedule.” “He interrupted me before I could even tell him where I was hurting.”
“He never let me help him.”
Despite it all, though, there are moments when everything clicks. Not long ago, in the middle of a busy morning clinic, a once-terrified cancer patient returned for a five-year check-up and gushed about how great she felt. I remember several times where I experienced a rush of satisfaction in the operating room as a cancer was finally freed up and successfully removed. I was once overwhelmed while reading a letter from a family member offering heartfelt thanks for the care I had provided to her dying sister. These are the moments that have kept me coming back for more.
Other professions, of course, have their own special moments. The satisfaction a baseball slugger feels when he connects on a 450-foot home run probably makes up for years in the minor leagues. The pleasure a pro golfer feels when she realizes the 40-foot downhill putt is going to drop into the center of the cup certainly makes the hours on the practice green worthwhile. The growing chant for an encore ringing through the auditorium makes life-on-the-road bearable for the rock musician. My moments, by comparison, are small and private, yet, I would never trade them.
So, to the MCW Class of 2015 (my up-and-coming colleagues), I hope you keep your senses constantly on alert for those fleeting glimpses into why Medicine is still a thrilling calling. Congratulations, David, and welcome.Share on Facebook
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As your direct descendant, I imagine he will be an AMAZING doctor. (No pressure, David!) Congratulations!