Recently, the Cheerful Oncologist had this to say about wanting to be a doctor. I have indulged myself similarly, numerous times in fact (1 2 3). But reading through the Cheerful Oncologist's list, I was struck by the fact that we spend so much time talking about the qualities required to be a doctor, and it's always cast in such a noble light. Rather than rehash a trite list of admirable qualities, I thought I might point to the blemishes instead.
So for your benefit and amusement, I will start a continuing series of essays on why NOT to become a doctor, starting with this one. I think it goes without saying that if you can read through these and still be gung ho for medicine, then feel free to proceed. Currently, I'm planning on at least 16 of them. Yah. I'm surprised too.
If you wish to be a doctor, there are things that you should know. The first thing is that you cannot ever understand what it means to be a doctor until you actually are one. Life truly is a little different once you've put on the long coat. You can't talk to someone who's dying and not be changed. And so, all I can hope for is that when I'm all done with this series, you can read them and piece together what it is to be a doctor, and decide for yourself if it's for you. And with that, I'll begin.
I found this comic, "Nana's Everyday Life" on the web, and I have to warn you, VERY NSFW! Briefly, it's a humorous look at the life of a little Japanese girl who's a sex slave. Believe it or not, the idea of having sex with little girls is such a prevalent fetish that it has a nickname, Roricon (Short for Lolita Complex). The comic itself starts as a satirical and ironic piece, but by the end is very somber.
And while it's designed to be jarring, I was absolutely struck by this, because it brought back flashbacks to me of child psych, the field that I was considering but chose internal medicine instead. The reason why I couldn't do child psych was because of stuff like this. It's because I would meet these little kids, the most innocent of innocents in our world, and they've lived harder lives than I could ever imagine. They've survived rape, torture, neglect, assault, abuse, starvation, and every form of physical and emotional abuse. They've been scarred for life, scars so deep that we have nothing that can fix them, nothing to make them better. There is no amount of love or caring or compassion that can heal these little children's wounds. Never. They are destined to live existences tainted by the horrors inflicted upon them.
And that first week on child psych, I wanted to buy a gun and shoot their parents for doing what they've done. I wanted to mete out justice, the kind of justice I pray exists in this world or the next. And it took me a long time to realize this truth about medicine: you see people at their worst. You see the worst people, the worst of times, the worst done to them, the worst circumstances. Medicine isn't a field that makes you feel happy. It isn't full of sunshine and songs. It's people sick, people dying, people shitting themselves, or living with a tube in every hole and some holes we've had to make.
In medicine, you only see the very worst of the world. Those are the folks that need our help. And it drains you. It eats at you at night. It can convince you that the world is full of disease and death.
I was talking with a friend, and noted that a lot of Catholics are in internal medicine. Of course, he said. What better field to suffer in? But the catharsis isn't just for the patient. The profession of doctor is cathartic. If you aren't ready or willing to face the dark side of the world every day, then please don't become a doctor.