Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thoughts (October-ish)

Something happened the day I said, “I think I want to go to medical school.” Something shifted in the universe. All of a sudden I was a pre-doctor. I was going to become a doctor. People looked at me differently. They assumed a set of things about me – you must be smart, you want to make a lot of money, you don’t believe in natural birth, you might know why my glands are swollen.

If I’d said, “I think I want to be a veterinarian” or “an accountant” or “a firefighter” it would have been different. Everyone experiences being doctored. Everyone has an opinion about health care. Everyone knows someone who was saved by a heart surgery and everyone knows someone who knows someone who died at the hands of an incompetent physician.

With one small statement, I felt the weight of all that hope, grief, anger, fear and expectation come swirling at me. A literal tornado heading directly toward me with my feet cemented in ten feet down. I feel dizzied and blown around and important and compassionate and angry.

Stop it! Stop assuming you know anything about me or what I think about diabetes or ADHD or that you know I’m called to be a neurosurgeon.

All of a sudden I’m asked for my “position” on everything from childhood immunizations and autism to health care reform and the appropriate salary for primary care physicians.

Not that long ago I was a marketing manager for a software company. I loved the communication challenge, but over time, found the subject matter to be a little thin. Having always loved biology and nearly missed a pre-med major I began wondering wistfully if medicine could honor my communication side. I had an epiphany at a doctor’s appointment a few weeks later. This doctor spends his days remarkably similar to how I spend mine. He interacts with a wide variety of clients, building rapport and asking questions. He’s listening for what they’re saying and what they’re not saying and running it against the problems he’s equipped to solve. He quickly determines what the first line of action ought to be, but takes time strategizing about how to enact his desired behavioral change. He’s interested, enthusiastic and competent. And, he’s on a tight schedule.

I come to medicine looking to harmonize my deep interest in the science of the human body and my love of communication. I want to help people, but more specifically, I think my constitution is really well suited to the daily work of a doctor. I think I can not only do it, but enjoy it, help people and do it well without burning out because I’m not working against my natural grain.

I begin to learn something about the culture of medicine in my first application. “What do you think it takes to become a physician of the future?” “What historical figure do you most admire and why?” “What challenge have you overcome that best prepares you for a career in medicine?” Asinine. They are seriously going to decide who gets to become a doctor based on icebreakers?

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