It is the time of the year again, where the old ends and the new begins. Where we seek reassurance from the baffling resolutions we never meant to keep.
It is also a season for young students to decide the course of their career. Fresh faced and bright-eyed, full of hyped up myths and legends, they will inadvertently have one ambition in mind. A dream they have kept repeating from childhood or rather a mantra that was repeated to them : GROW UP AND BECOME A DOCTOR.
I am here to tell you what your parents conveniently forgot. There are things to consider before foolishly embarking on a journey not meant for you. In short, I am a myth buster. But in reality, I AM A DOCTOR.
Myth number one: The hard part is getting into medical school.
This is not the hard part at all. The real challenge is remaining in medical school till you graduate. The numerous exams and assessments will leave most of you gasping for reprieve.
My advice to you is to go to the nearest book store and browse through the medical books. Have you seen them? Do they look shiny and thick? Good. Now imagine spending your weekends with them. For the next five years!
Clinical exams on the other hand are unique to medical schools. Two examiners will observe your every move as you attempt to demonstrate the multiple clinical signs taught only once during your ward rounds. Mass production of doctors by a single medical school is a myth. A significant number would have dropped out by the time you graduate.
Myth number two: Internship training is not as difficult as it sounds.
You are absolutely right. It is infinitely much harder. Every decision you make will be scrutinized and criticized. Some senior doctors will humiliate you for simple errors.
There may be times your ignorance might be detrimental to a patient and you may lose a patient during the course of your internship. Recovering from the loss is hard, especially if there is a chance you could have prevented it. The guilt will eat you up, forcing you to drop out of clinical work. And this guilt will stain your conscience for life. It will never wash off.
Myth number three: Doctors are highly respected in the society
This may have been the case in the previous centuries but as our society becomes more affluent and educated, they invariably become more demanding.
Walk through the corridors of any hospital in major cities, wearing your white lab coat and stethoscope, you would be hard pressed to find any layman who greets you with a smile or a respectful nod to say the least. Forget about “good mornings” and “good days”.
Since the lawyers are fast becoming the bane of our existence, our daily work consists of evasion tactics to prevent lawsuits. A new form of medicine is being practiced now and it has superseded the “clinical medicine” that was taught to us. It’s called “defensive medicine” and it is being practiced throughout the world.
Unnecessary investigations and treatments are administered, which bleeds our health resources dry, just to protect ourselves from legal attacks. An example would have to be the fast emergence of resistance to most antibiotics due to injudicious use, which if seen from another perspective, stems from the practice of defensive medicine.
Myth number four: Patients will always be grateful to the doctors
Before you start filling up the forms to enter medical school, you need to get one thing embedded in your mind.
Most patients will never say “thank you” or “you did your best doctor” if they get better. They will assume it’s their birthright to get better once they see you and it is your duty to make them well as they pay taxes.
I have been in this service for seven years and out of the thousands of patients I have discharged home safely, I can say less than a hundred have expressed their gratitude. Most would be complaining about the time it took for the doctors to prepare their discharge notes and plan subsequent follow-up appointments.
Then when they come back to see us in clinics, they will complain about the waiting time, not knowing you would have been starving the whole morning, just to start the clinics early to reduce the waiting time of the patients. After the consultation, you would be the one thanking them, and they will be rushing for the door to get the next cab home, so that they can be back in time for lunch with their family. And before I forget, lunch is a luxury you don’t often get.
Myth number five: Patients always place their full trust in doctors
If I have not deterred your interest in medicine up to now, I guess this will do it.
You are no savior. Remember this, and remember it well.
You don’t walk into a ward with the authority of a royalty and tell your patients you are going to start some form of treatment for them regardless of how they feel about it because they should just trust you. You had better find another job because their lawyers will sue the pants off you.
There is something called “patient autonomy”. It is they who decide to pursue any course of treatment and this is based on the quality of communication between both parties.
You can’t force a Jehovah Witness to receive blood transfusion even if she is bleeding away after delivery and would rather die that see a drop of blood enter her veins. In a bustling labor room, you might get a few requests at the same time for a female doctor to attend to patients with specific religious beliefs when there are no female doctors around. I have had patients who insist on seeing only a particular doctor knowing well he is on leave, while the infection eats away their foot, vehemently refusing other doctors and medical interns to come near them.
Official complaints to the administrators will follow suit if we don’t comply to their every wants and needs. Media bashing and Facebook groups with ridiculous demands are only a tip of the iceberg. The internet age has created many pseudo-doctors who assume they can challenge your treatment plan and knowledge based on a few articles they have read online. They will quote everyone and if possible even their neighbor’s cat which according to them recovered from appendicitis without any surgical intervention (True story!) .Go figure.
Myth number six: Sleep deprivation is a thing of the past
Sleep deprivation will remain in your present, brought forward from your past and linger on in your future. Medical interns will suffer the most. Depending on the sub specialty you choose, sleep deprivation will follow you like a shadow. No amount of adjustments to working hours will prevent this because the diseases don’t come with an appointment. As you climb higher up the ladder, responsibility increases exponentially and sleep quality reduces dramatically. Sounds poetic but it’s true.
Myth number seven: Doctors are guaranteed a job for life
Get this idea out of your head. Due to the blossoming of medical schools in most countries the supply is fast overcoming the demand. Some countries can’t cope with the number of doctors being churned out every year, that stringent entrance exams are enforced prior to permanent placement for internship. Requirements for specialty and sub specialty trainings are stricter now than they used to be.
Legal ramifications and higher costs in setting up private hospitals and clinics are fast reducing the number of experienced doctors who tend to live on their pensions and lead a relatively stress free life. The only thing you are guaranteed is the title in front of your name, which after a while numbs you and loses its sense of appeal.
Myth number eight: Doctors make lots of money
Doctors make a decent living. We don’t mint money if that’s what you’re after. If you are motivated by money I suggest you find another way to earn it. You will never be happy in this field. It’s just not for you. And it’s not your fault if you are motivated by financial riches. Just don’t use the pain and suffering of others for your own gains. There are other ways. Please find it.
Myth number nine: Life is easy for doctors in some countries compared to others
I don’t have to travel around the world and speak to every doctor, living or dead alike to tell you this. Life of a doctor is never easy, regardless of which corner of the world you work in. If it’s easy, then you’re not doing your job right.
Each country has its own challenges and any reasonable clinician with a sound insight will tell you the same thing. Perhaps they will venture to add-on some that I have missed out. You can try running but you will eventually end up where you started.
Living conditions and pay structures may change but human nature remains a constant throughout the world. Since our profession deals with human ailments and diseases, handling their behaviors and concerns conjointly falls on our shoulders. This is where the interminable difficulties lie, not in the diseases, but in the unpredictability of human responses.
If you do find or hear of a country where the doctors there have it easy, do let me know. I will swim there or drown trying.
Myth number ten: Doctors are busy but they still have time for their family
Finally, if you have been reading patiently up to now, courageous and steadfast in refuting most of the myths, telling yourself “I know what I am getting into”, then this is the last weapon in my arsenal.
If you love spending most of your time at home with your family, if you see yourself being around your children when they grow up, if you want to be there for your wife when she is pregnant with your children, hold her hands while she delivers your baby, if you yearn to witness the first few steps your child takes, then this unfortunately is not your path.
Medicine will take up most of your time and very little will be left for your family. Many marriages have broken down for this reason alone. Children have grown up blaming their parents for not being there for them during their formative years. You will miss the important anniversaries, dance recitals and football games. Do you think a mere job is worth all this?
For now, this is all I have. I have painted a bleak picture. You have just seen it. And all of it is true.
So do you still want to become a doctor?
If your answer is still a resounding “yes” then I will let you in a secret. The important piece of information withheld up to now, meant only for those who truly deserve it. I have no regrets as well. Do you know why? Because we are the select few chosen to ease pain and end suffering. It’s a selfish act of being selfless. For one good day in this profession, I am willing to weather a hundred bad days. For a single smile of gratitude, I will brave a wave of indifference. For a person to be returned to their family, I am content if I only get to kiss my child goodnight.
I wake up every morning with a reason to live. It is profoundly better than those who wander aimlessly in a life of wealth and comfort. There will always be dark clouds. Even if I can’t see the sun, I know it’s there. And this sun is invincible. I hope you see it too someday.