With all the negative press, the pay cuts, health care reform, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consolidation of health systems and corporatization of medicine that diminishes our voice, I am still approached by people who secretly whisper in my ear, “Would you have your child go in to medicine?”
On first blush, I am tempted to answer “No way!” given the administrative hassles, the negative changes in the public’s perception of our profession, the front-load of education and the long hours of clinical training and late nights involved. But those observations, while real, are at best superficial. Drilling down with more careful analysis after a challenging week on call, I find it worthwhile to stop and ask myself what still makes medicine special for those of us crazy enough to subject ourselves to this lifestyle. I decided to put together a list of things that were important to me and would welcome additions to the list from others.
10. Independence – No matter what happens on the larger public policy and procedure scale with guidelines and mandates, when it comes to decisions regarding a patient’s care, it will always be the one-on-one interaction between the patient and the doctor that will ultimately decide the best approach for care for an individual patient.
9. Respect – The title “Doctor of Medicine” still carries weight in our society. With that respect, however, comes significant moral imperatives to maintain that respect.
8. Flexibility – For those not adept at one-to-one interactions with people (hence, the clinical side of medicine), there are a myriad of opportunities opened with the MD or DO degree in public policy, research, the basic sciences, journalism, consulting, business, etc. It is this flexibility of options that are open to doctors that ensures job security.
7. Variety – I have been doing medicine a long time and have yet to see two days’ activities or two patients that are the same. Ever. Bottom line: medicine is never boring.
6. Influence – Physicians matter. People know it. But you’d better be ready to be cornered at cocktail parties.
5. Reward – I cannot not think of anything superior to helping a fellow man or woman at a time when they are most vulnerable or in the greatest need. And while less and less frequent these days, it also occasionally provides an upgrade to business class or a free beverage when you help treat a hyperventilating patient on an airplane.
4. Trust – Like Smith Barney says, you have to “earn it,” but once a patient’s trust and confidence, it’s the tie that binds. By virtue of your title, you are invited into the most secret parts of patients’ lives to share their deepest concerns – a truly remarkable privilege. Corporate meetings never leave me with that feeling, if you get my drift.
3. Humility – Medicine will always keep you humble since there will never be a time when you can know it all or cure it all – ever. It’s both the blessing and the curse of our profession: the learning, both professionally and spiritually, never ends.
2. Fascination – Every day we work with the most amazing technology imaginable. The wonder of it is incredible: ask anyone who’s ever reached in an abdomen to remove ischemic bowel, prescribed an antibiotic to cure a pneumonia, or ablated an tachycardia that affected someone their entire life and rendered it of historic interest only. Even something as simple as cutting the skin with the belly of a 15-blade scalpel while listening to the patient chat idly about their grandkids thanks to remarkable local anesthetics during minor surgery, you are reminded of the amazing wonders of modern medicine every day.
1. Teamwork – Medicine is, by definition, a team sport. No physician can do what we do in isolation. Our “Club Med” has challenging pre-requisites, but once in, it is a vocation where we share collectively in the trials and tribulations of patient care. We win and we lose, together. Whether we are doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators, clerical staff, safety personnel or maintenance workers – each of us are constantly working for a common goal – the health and well-being of our patients – and when it works, nothing, I mean nothing, is as cool as that.
-Wes Fisher, MD
Treasurer and Co-Founder
Practicing Physicians of America