Why I wanted to be a doctor

When I wrote my essay for applying to medical school, I was convinced that I wanted to be a doctor in order to help people. And I'm sure that every other medical school personal statement read pretty much the same. I want to help people. And that was all fine and good before I went to medical school, but during med school, when I realized that I didn't go into medicine to help people, that was pretty disappointing.

The truth of the matter is that when I started the process to becoming a doctor, I didn't really see what it meant to be a doctor. I had a very romantic notion that being a doctor meant helping people. Never did I conceive of a day when I would wake up and say, "Damn, can't these people get sick on my off day?" And truth be told, I probably had a better idea of what it meant to be a doctor than 75% of applicants.

I thought medicine because it was intellectually stimulating, because it meant meeting new and different people and becoming involved in their lives, because it would be spiritually rewarding. And all these things have some truth to them, but really, it's not enough. I could say the same about a dozen different professions: teacher, doctor, priest, detective, researcher, psychologist, social worker, lawyer, even financial adviser.

And in med school, like so many other medical students, I discovered that my juvenile conceptions of why I wanted to be a doctor didn't hold water. They were romantic ideals and not motivating factors. They were concepts, but not desires. It sounded good on paper, but when the alarm went off in the morning, it wasn't enough to get me out of bed.

So I had to sit down and think about what I really wanted out of medicine, since I had $130,000 worth of motivation to finish med school, and the thought of going into radiology was repulsive to my vision of health care. And I realized that I wanted to be a doctor not for patients but for me.

One of the most selfish decisions you make in life is how you want to spend it, because ultimately the only person who enjoys that decision is you. And so I went into medicine for me. I wanted to be the person who says, "I think it's cancer." I wanted to be the person who patients go to in order to understand themselves. I wanted to be someone intimately involved in other people's lives because I enjoy it.

And part of that is helping people, and part of that is feeling good at the end of the day, and part of that is the intellectual stimulation. But diagnosis and treatment is really no different from doing tech support on computers, which I've done to death. You assess the machine, find the problem, attempt to remedy it. And I'm sure some people view medicine in the same vein that I view computer work. But it's the people I enjoy. If there were no people in it, I'd want nothing to do with medicine.

Because I love taking care of people, because it's what makes me feel good. Helping someone who's sick and helping them understand themselves, that's where the fun is. It's knowing that Mr. S is a scratch golfer, and whatever I do to him, he's got to golf. It's knowing that seeing me every 3 months is more valuable to Mrs. K than any of the meds I prescribe because she's lonely. No machine can give you that. And you can teach anything in the world, but teaching someone about himself, that's priceless.

Because there's no textbook on the cardiovascular system of Steve. That source of knowledge is me. And that's why I went into medicine.


Jonathan said...

I was doing a search for "matchbook art" and found your site. You had a post way back in Feb 2004 that had an image of a matchbook near the WTC site. You wondered who created it. I may have found the answer: Edwin Glass. There's a little blurb about him at this blog: http://be.blogs.com/subtext/2005/03/art.html
Of course I can't be sure, but it seems likely...

incidental findings said...

For reference, the post in question can be found here.

Thanks for the info. It certainly does look like his handiwork. And I'm kind of surprised that you've managed to read all the way back to Feb 2004... or should I be scared?

michelharolds54257331 said...
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Anonymous said...

it was really a nice story.. i was somehow enlighten to continue nursing to medicine.. thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

Hi there! Im a graduating nursing student and like u its my dream of becoming an MD. Im glad that I'm not the only who feels the same way u did. Thanks for sharing! I know you're a great doctor now. :)