I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately with medicine. Lots of patients, 2 young kids, no vacation for a while owing to partner leaving and no nearby family. I love my job choice of medicine. It’s easy to overlook all the good things about a career in medicine and as bloggers we often try to identify problems with our job so we can offer solutions. So I decided to write down some things I’m grateful for in medicine, a gratitude post.
This is the end all of a career in medicine. If you see 1000 patients a year or zero and do research, you are still in it for the patient. I learn so much from them. They are mirrors onto ourselves. Make no mistake, as a friend of mine recently said, “we will be in that chair one day”.
Patients give us insight into the bounds of human emotion, and let us into their most personal of spaces. Suffering and joy, tragedy and comedy spanning the gamut from birth to death, alpha and omega. Very few careers expose one regularly to human beings in this state. This is not a novelty, it’s a privilege and at times a spiritual revelation.
Unity of Purpose
We work with people who choose a variety of careers, but we all have one goal. It’s a bit like sailing a giant British warship circa 200 years ago. All sailors have a different responsibility, but it takes everyone to sail the ship. Once she gets going with a strong wind, everyone doing their job, there is little to compare with that since of purpose and unity.
As a Radiation Oncologist, calls to surgeons, medical oncologist, pathologists, radiologist and others make up a good part of my day. I relish these conversations as they are often about those difficult cases where you can’t just open a textbook or online guideline. You need to rely on the foundations of your specialty, intuition and experience. Guidance from colleagues is key, and talking with them gives me that rush you can only get from working in a team, learning from each other and reaching that “ah ha!” moment. Nothing gets me excited about medicine like seeing my fellow physicians get excited about a challenging case.
Let’s face it, my wife and I used too have lots of friends that we called and hung out with regularly. We also, used too be geographically closer to family. Now, we rely on work to fulfill relationships. (I get some through blogging). I have built a sort of surrogate work family. I have a mom who watches out for me but is not afraid to bring me in line. I have a dad who is friendly to a point but uses the carrot and stick strategy. My work sister and I get along, until we don’t, then we forgive and move on. I would never think of retiring early unless I had enough time to cultivate some stable out-of-work relationships. These are just too important.
Have a question about a patient and can’t find it in the literature? Chances are someone else has that same question. So write a paper and answer it! There is only one human emotion for that Eureka! moment, and medical research gives it every time. Seeing practice changing trial results presented at national meetings is also an incredible feeling. Knowing that there are physician are out there dedicated and knowledgeable enough to design those trials keeps me humble and knowing I can always be a better researcher and more uptodate doc.
When I question my career or am feeling down, I just grab a medical student or resident. Zeal for medicine spills forth from the young minds and in no time, I’m rejuvenated by seeing my younger self and ready to get back in the clinic. Also, students see all, and they know when you are bullshitting and don’t know the answer. Teaching forces me to look it up and be up to date. You know you mastered a subject if you can teach it.
There is no end to the made from scratch and store bought deliciousness that abounds in the breakroom of an outpatient Radiation Oncology clinic. I haven’t eaten a non-fresh tomato for dinner in 6 weeks! I just imagine these cancer patients, just wanting to be done with treatment, but being grateful enough to use what little energy they have to bake a dessert. It’s hard to tire of seeing patients like that.
Despite being in a job “funk”, I feel like things are good. The signs are all around me. Most of the time I feel content and tranquil. I smile and laugh a lot. I am optimistic about the future and feel like I have a place in the world. Occasionally I feel joy, elation, etc. I do not often feel sad, just really really busy.
Bringing the positive into focus is a known method to enhance happiness. The trick is making it habit.