Despite whatever stresses or pressures that medical school triggers, seeing a patient always reminds me that it's worth it. All of it. Today I was presented with three patients with chronic illness. Having been blessed with a relatively healthy family, I don't have much experience with the chronically-ill in my immediate family. Especially the young and chronically-ill (my grandmother died from pancreatic cancer and my grandfather is currently ill with dementia). Today I was presented with a patient roughly my own age, who has Marfan's syndrome (mutation in the Fibrillin 1 gene the resulted in heart issues for this patient). Later in the afternoon, I met a high-schooler with Type I diabetes, as well as an elderly gentleman with both HIV and paranoid schizophrenia. Hearing from these patients was educational, to say the least. It is hard for me to imagine what it is like to be reminded day in and day out that your health is on the line, that your body could turn against you at any time, and that control is truly not in your hands. It's an illusion that any of us have control at all, but to be living constantly in the face of the reality of that myth is not easy. It's only been little more than a month of med school for me, I'm still trying to gain my bearings and begin to figure out what medicine will mean to me. How will I practice? What kind of medicine? With what population? Will it be my life, or only part of my life? Will I do research, or will I focus on clinical medicine? Where? Private practice or academic medicine?
It can be overwhelming at times to consider these questions, which seem so gigantic and looming and unanswerable. I suppose I can only go with the flow and see where it leads me. Every time I start doubting what I'm doing, all I have to do is meet a patient.
Medicine is such an interesting profession. On one hand, you are held to the highest ethical and moral standards that any career can dare to expect of its practitioners. Yet on the other hand, it is one of the most competitive and draining careers there is. You hear of physicians who heroically save or cure their patients, and then you also hear of physician burnout and medical malpractice. It's expected that we fit into the "mold" of medicine, the hierarchical structure of the hospital, the "professional" behavior that must be exhibited at all times. But there's also the need for innovation, for creativity, for the courage to disregard "what others' think of you" in order for medicine to be practiced in a personal, individual way. Also, there's a certain level of ambition and drive to succeed that medicine seems to foster in those that try to practice it. And yet, equanimity, peace of mind, stability of character all seem to be necessary traits for a physician to have in the face of the daily encounters with death, dying, and disease. It is a training that can drain the personality out of you, and it could also be a process that brings out the best in you.
When the patients I met today were asked what they would most want to see from their doctors, it is COMPASSION. And the willingness to be patient with one's patients!