We had a speaker come in and talk to the postbacs last Wednesday, and for the first time since I started this program a doctor stood before me and said in no uncertain terms that we were all in for a fantastic ride. I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I was missing exactly that statement.

There are a few major reactions I get when I explain to people what I’m doing. Usually the first reaction is surprise; especially people who have known me for awhile give me a look that says, “You? Really? But why?” They quickly get with the program, though,  and enthusiasm abounds. I’m good at selling my story at this point; the journey from English major and writer to aspiring physician. It all sounds wonderfully adventurous, and the reality of years of schooling, debt and lack of sleep can be ignored for the glamour we’re shown on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House

Next the conversation drifts toward the many controversies in medicine; the high rate of infection in hospitals, health insurance and the health care bill, that one doctor who did that really unethical thing that was in the paper the other day. I draw on my limited knowledge of medical politics and become the informal representative of the doctors perspective. We talk about the problems in the medicine today, we talk about the futility of finding permanent solutions. In my head I vow to do better someday, but deep down I wonder if that will be possible.

One of the fellows I worked with when I was shadowing listened to the tale of the postbac program and nodded thoughtfully at me. “That sounds good,” he said, “You still have time to change your mind.”

It wasn’t the first such statement I had received from various attendings, residents and medical students at the hospital, but it brought me up short.

“I don’t think I will,” I answered slowly. “The longer I’m in the program the more I’m sure this is what I want to do.”

He looked skeptical but said, “No of course not. It’s a wonderful profession,” as though he didn’t really believe himself.

The comment was unsettling, but it wasn’t until another postbac showed up bubbling with excitement over a meeting with an MD/MPH that I realized how much the consistent negativity was getting to me. “This woman,” she exclaimed, “She loved her job. I haven’t met any doctors who seem to love what they’re doing.”

I opened my mouth, ready to protest, but found that I couldn’t. The statement wasn’t entirely accurate; I’d met many doctors who seemed quite happy with their choice of careers and who have been supportive of my own efforts in that direction. But I also could not point to a single example of a physician who had bubbled over with excitement the way my friend was describing. How frustrating, I thought. I’m still so sure this is what I want to do with my life, but everyone around me seems to be supporting me more out of habit than out of a genuine excitement for the journey.

It was, therefore, perfect timing when this particular speaker came to talk to us that afternoon.

He sat at the front of our classroom with a smile on his face and said, “You will love this profession; you will have so much fun provided one thing: that you want to do the things that doctors do.”

He went on: “Medical school will be so much fun. It will be like going to Hogwarts; you’ll get to do potions, you’ll look inside people’s bodies. You will do magic. You will get to help people, which is the greatest gift of all. There is nothing more rewarding than when a patient gives you a hug or thanks you for helping them.”

I could write ten blog entries on different tidbits of wisdom I picked up over the course of that talk. “Start thinking about why you’re doing something before you start thing about how to do something.” “There is great value in learning something you didn’t know you wanted to know; there is great value in a lack of specificity.” “Learn to follow every statement with the word ‘because.’ ‘I think the patient has pneumonia instead of a blood clot because….’”

And yet it was that first declaration that I think I needed to hear more than anything else. Yes, I thought, That’s me. I want to do the things that doctors do! More importantly, I want to be excited to do the things that doctors do.

I’ve found very few people who passionately love their jobs in a way that is palpable, and many of the people who do have jobs that hold little interest for me. I don’t expect every doctor I meet to brim with excitement at the prospect of another day on the job, just as I doubt I will ever be a shining example of optimism in the face of difficulty. (Well, maybe on paper sometimes. I hope.) I refuse to take any of it as a sign that I’m on the wrong track. But it was a relief to finally hear someone stand up and say, “You’re in for a hell of a ride, and it is going to be AWESOME.”

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