Don't become a doctor #18 - Meaning

When I am on the Internet, I often hear young people thinking about going into medicine because they are looking for meaning. This is a rather altruistic and noble vision, to pursue a career that benefits the world and humanity, and it is one that I held when I was younger, but it is sadly very naive, and very misleading.

Like many teenagers, I really struggled with the question of why do I exist and what is my purpose. It is really the first time we are aware that our lives can have a purpose. So I sought out a raison d'etre. I wanted a mission. Medicine really appealed to me because I could heal the sick, and the role of healer is full of meaning and purpose. If I could just put on the cloak of physician, then I too could have meaning, by extension.

However, the ugly truth is: a job is a job. There is nothing more or less meaningful about any job, and all jobs have meaning and purpose to someone. A plumber gives us running water and sanitary disposal of waste water. Without this, cholera would still be a worldwide killer. A janitor lets us have clean and safe facilities to use, whether at our work or places we visit. A chef prepares food for us for nourishment and pleasure. Every job offers some level of purpose. So the key is not finding a job full of meaning. Having a job full of meaning does not make YOU meaningful. It only gives you responsibilities and expectations.

In residency, I responded to a code for a lady in her 20's. I hadn't been phased by codes in a long time, but she was so young, and with so much life ahead. And somehow, I managed to bring this one back. Even though it was probably more luck than skill, it felt good. It felt like without me, she would be dead. I put everything I had into her case. And that good feeling, it lasted for about 15 minutes before I asked a terrible, terrible question of myself. "What if that was why I was put on this earth, to save that one person? What the fuck do I do with the rest of MY life?"

I know plenty of docs with amazing skills who have saved many more than I ever will, but they hate their lives and are going through the motions, locked into a profession that demands a lot of time and energy and dedication. I have avoided this by making sure I was able to answer to answer one simple question: is what I do meaningful to me? Do I love what I am doing? That is how you find meaning.


Anonymous said...

Would you agree with the saying "Work to live and not live to work"?

Shanon Raynard said...

I love the perspective you bring to what a meaningful life is. So a job is just a job, it might be meaningful to you, but it doesn't define what your meant to DO with your life. This made me think about the people who have "jobs" that damage society. They may love what they do, but it isn't what they are meant to be doing in any special sense.

Anonymous said...

The doctor job is very different from other jobs in the sense, that the "customer" has almost no clue about the true value of what the doctor is offering. So the doctor not only has to offer something, but at the same time has to decide for the patient, what he/she wants/needs.

Ideally, of course, patient and doctor discuss something and come to a common conclusion. But in the end, the doctor recommends something and this naturally has a lot of weight in this discussion between patient and doctor.

So what is special about being a doctor is, that society does not decide if you are valuable or not. The doctor decides that for society.
As a doctor, your work does not automatically have value/meaning, just because society gives you money for it. This is something I am struggeling with as a medical student who is facing the end of medschool.

Are we really offering the value that people think we are offering? And if we do, where? How much of it is about creating an illusion of control over something we really can not control? How valuable is this illusion actaully to society?

So if my work has meaning or not, is a lot less clear than if I would sell pizzas. Because as a doctor, I have to decide if you want a pizza.