Monday, December 9, 2013

How Has Medicine Changed Me?

KC suggested this topic, and I have had to think and think about it. How HAS medicine changed me? 

As an uber-idealistic practically socialist gunner med student, I had a vision of myself in the future as a doctor completely devoted to the poor and disenfranchised of the world. I was going to work for Doctors Without Borders or something like that. I was going to deliver skilled medical care with aplomb, to the suffering and forgotten. My vision was pretty vague, but definitely included basic field hospitals, palm trees and grateful patients.

I held onto this vision well into residency, shrugging off questions about how I would finance my dream, seeing as I paid for med school with loans, and would end up about $120,000 in the hole, before interest.I shrugged off those questions, figuring where there was a will, there was a way. I did every international elective I could. I ended up in crazy places (and I have many crazy stories) from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador, Sri Lanka...

As the end of residency approached, along with those ever-increasing loan statements, I started looking for a job in my dream field, which was, in my head, basically "International Health". Of course most medical jobs in this area don't pay much; and though many allow loan payback deferment, the interest still mounts... I considered going for an infectious diseases fellowship, but I had signed on for Primary Care loans, and would take a penalty if I broke my commitment to primary care.

I tried some things; I did work in HIV research and thought about pushing that work into something more... international. I struggled. I got kind of depressed, trying to reconcile my vision with the reality of life, and finances.

But then, something else was happening. I was in my mid-thirties, and I was starting to have other visions... Visions of family. Of settling down, raising kids, of community, of stability.

There was a transition, a positive one, and I ended up here, in a very nice suburban home, with my wonderful rock-stable husband and two healthy kids, working in a small practice at a respected academic institution, providing primary care to decidedly American patients. I'm really very happy.

A lovely patient of mine, someone who has faced many medical adversities, told me once that "it's the kindness of caregivers that gives a person courage." I do try to remember that, even when faced with an angry patient... Be kind. It matters, whether it's with first-world or third-world patients.

So, I try to be kind. And it's all good. What's so funny is that I feel like I'm a nicer person now than I was when I was supposedly devoted to saving the world...I seriously think that's how medicine has changed me. It's made me a nicer person, though not in the way I anticipated it would.

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