Do we know what studying medicine and becoming a doctor means?
Recently I was invited to speak about “Medicine: Expectation vs Reality” in MMI Young Medic’s 4th instalment of their annual Webinar series. It was a great honor, after working with MMI for 5 years, and then finally an opportunity to be invited as a guest speaker in the very chapter I help founded 5 years ago. On some level, it felt like it has come full circle. When June and I set up the Young Medics chapter in 2017, it was solely established to provide insights into medicine as a career to aspiring young medics. Today, on this international stage, a platform to 7 other countries connecting Malaysian medics worldwide, I was invited to talk about the very topic that may well contradict the ideals and beliefs I once had years ago as a student.
Don’t get me wrong. I have both gratitude and regrets to which how I have grown to be the person I am today. Gratitude – I am grateful having completed 5 years of medical education. To become a doctor was a dream of a 17 year old back then. Regrets – 8 years later, I’m starting to realise what everyone was talking about, the toxic work culture, long working hours and of course all the time you don’t get to spend with your family.
Today, friends of mine who have entered the field, now realise what they have gotten themselves into. Medicine is a field of service. Not many can understand, especially when you were that ambitious 17 year old adolescent who could think of nothing else but become a doctor. Truthfully, as a doctor, it does not demand you to be smart or intelligent, in fact it takes really little of what you can offer in terms of knowledge. Medicine does not consider your grades to become a good doctor. A good doctor, however takes a lot of your time and sacrifices. A good doctor is a doctor who knows how to service his/her people, and that may mean doing whatever it takes to help them get better.
Let’s be real. We all entered this field because of either one, born out of passion or two, to help others. Mantra of every 17 year old who have watched Grey’s Anatomy – to save lives, to touch lives. But what’s more than that, I think, its the hunger to understand the human body. Imagine having to go through five years of education, through numerous textbooks and reading, it has to be that innate hunger for knowledge and curiosity for the human body that gets you through the five years. This undying desire entices many of us, whom in name pursue medicine for passion. But remember, medicine was never about the knowledge, it is about the service for mankind. The passion has to be with the act of service, not the knowledge.
Hence I pose the same question but at different angle
Do we really understand what medicine is about?
Do we understand what it means to do medicine?
Do we understand the day-to-day activities of a doctor?
Truth is, the education is incomparable to the work. The work demands so much. The work changes at different stage of your career. While the education puts you forward into 5 years of intensive theoretical challenge, it is a mere platform of continuous learning. Within that 5 years, the 3 years of clinical training embedded in it may give you some insight into the actual practice, but believe me, it prepares you for nothing. What you think you already know about medicine, is a faction of the reality. The next time you meet a house officer, ask them how’s life, and they will always either reply you “okay” or “it’s bad”. But we all know it’s never okay.
Ask them, when was your last good day?
Maybe that will shed some light into the reality of medicine.
This was actually intended to be a full-blown post about the reality of doing medicine, but I realised it isn’t possible to condense the perspective I have to offer, simplified into a thousand words. Hence, I have decided to break it up into several topics, topics that are still being considered. At the moment, what’s on mind are
- Roles of House Officer and the Healthcare System
- Working Culture
- Reality of Medicine
Do let me know if there’s a perspective you would like me to share. Happy to share my thoughts.