I’ve been away for a while now, birthing, or perhaps mid-wifing, two books. For me, editing seeps into writing and rewriting for others, to the point where I am not sure whether I wish I’d said that, or I did say that. What on earth was I thinking, involving myself in two projects with competing deadlines, and then volunteering to write an index?
Now that everything is in the uber-editor’s inbox, I can blog again. It feels like when my last child got her driver’s license and could get herself to school on her own, or when my first child finally slept through the night, or the day they all were in school for a full six hours, or the first weekend that they all went to grandma’s, or…
Here is what I didn’t have time to write in May: At graduation, I again heard the speech about putting patients first, sacrificing ourselves to medicine. I could see all the graduating students, especially the women, looking vaguely shifty-eyed, wondering what those exhortations would mean to them and their hopes for a full and balanced life.
I think beyond valuing the contribution of privileged males, medicine suffers from its institutional history. The structures of medicine and medical education are eerily like those of the Catholic Church and the military—institutions in which celibate young men with great physical stamina have the greatest value in perpetuating the institution. I do believe in the value of altruism, selflessness, and commitment—but I also believe these can be expressed in many contexts. When I am in the office, I will do for my patients whatever I can, above and beyond what they pay me to do. When I am on call, I stay late. But I do not think that I am any less of a dedicated professional (a word originally applied to priests) because I also worked part time for many years while my children were younger, pursue hobbies now that they are grown, and comfortably wear many different hats and uniforms, depending on the day.
I wish that just once the graduation speaker would say this out loud—it is, after all, what all of us, men and women, really do and mean in our lives after training.