Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Medical Profession

Recently, my friend posted a really interesting note up on Facebook that really epitomized a lot of the feelings I have experienced throughout my first year in medical school. It wasn't that the note said anything new - this is old stuff, stuff I have kept barely hidden in my mind as early as maybe even my first month here at Jefferson.

This year has been literally a cascade of knowledge, knowledge that I can barely even find room to stuff in my head. Like one of my friends once told me "Medical school is like trying to drink water out of a fire hose". And yet, ironically, if you asked me what was the most valuable thing I have learned these past 8 months, it is this:

ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR MOM. Because no matter how irritating or naggy or ditsy she may appear, how little she may seem to understand, she is ALWAYS right in the end.

The first thing my mom was right about (and even I admit it) is my temper. And my stubbornness. I guess those two traits often go hand in hand with each other. Which then sort of led to the second thing she was right about. And that is this:

Medical school is not something to take lightly.

My mom studied medicine herself back when she lived in China. She never actually became a doctor (she would have had to stay in school a lot longer for that), but she did start off with the same classes and lessons that I am learning now. I guess I never really thought about that because my mom always seems so silly and domestic most of the time - not until I started telling her some of the notes I'd taken in class, and instead of smiling blankly, she would actually relate them back to me word by word in Chinese. I've gained a lot of respect in her for that. How can you not, when your own mother jumps from talking about the neighbor's new dog to the Mandarin version of the Psoas Sign as a diagnosis of Appendicits? Anyway, I digress.
When I first told my parents that I wanted to become a doctor, they laughed.  It was a little annoying to say the least. Then again, looking back, I think I would have laughed at myself too. I was so ignorant of the doctor's profession; what really drew me to it was the fact that I realized in undergrad that I COULD do it. I had the grades, the resume, the extracurriculars. And back in San Diego, if you weren't pre-med, you had to be some other kind of pre-health, or if not that, at least 50% of your friends were. And then, there was my stubbornness and temper.
Over time, as I became more and more serious, my parents started to worry. My dad was okay with it, of course, but my mom continuously warned me about becoming a doctor. She would often suggest other fields, fields that had less schooling and less competition. And that really hurt me. The way I saw it, it seemed like she didn't have any faith in me, as if she didn't think I had the brains or the willpower to make it into medical school. And that drove me all the more to succeed.

So finally, I did make it. Don't get me wrong - even if I did initially become a pre-med for the wrong reasons, I did find myself falling in love with it the more I explored it. The human body is fascinating, and it is unfathomable to think that we have to ability to take such a wonderful creation of God and...fix it. Tweak it around. Not to mention that you really feel like a good guy when your patients come back fully recovered and tell you how much you've helped them.
But I think one thing that many many entering medical students don't realize is that there are also many downfalls to the medical profession as well - and this was what my mom had been trying to hint at instead.  You have to really look at your priorities, set them straight. While your friends make cash, get started with their lives, rock out their 20s, you'll be stuck indoors studying for the Boards or running around the hospital floor on Red Bull and way too little sleep. While your friends start inviting each other to their house-warming parties or baby showers, you'll be turning them down because you have to do rotations for the next God knows how many years. And while your friends start getting married, you'll be cursing yourself for leaving yet another perfectly good relationship because you had freaking relocate AGAIN for residency - just when you thought all this long-distance nonsense ended with undergrad.

I'm being cynical. Things usually don't turn out so badly, I'm just looking at the glass half-empty. But these are just a few of the many issues that you really have to consider when you enter medical school. And what about beyond that? Malpractice? High divorce rates? Even the little things - showing up late to your daughter's piano recital because you couldn't get out of surgery, canceling on your significant other's anniversary to address an emergency call, staying in debt for the next 15 years of your life while people give you dirty looks because they think you are rolling around in dough.

But looking back, I still don't regret becoming a doctor. I still love the science, and nothing beats the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you know you've made someone's life better. I think it is partly why I love running so much - because it really pushes my body to the limit, the very body I am learning so much about in all of my classes. And that is nothing compared to being able to actually put all these theories to practice in a few years. This whole thing has been a part of me for so long that without it, I would not even be close to the person I am today.

But now, more than ever, I've come to take all this as a grain of salt. I really dislike it when people find out I am going to be a doctor and judge me for it - how they think that I am going to be a super-rich snob who owns Ferraris and drinks champagne everyday. Or when parents come up to my Mom and Dad and ask them how they convinced their daughter to choose the medical profession. Seriously. Medical school is not like some SAT, where if you throw enough money and classes into it, you'll get a high score in the end. And it is nothing like the fairy-tale happy ending full of dollar bills and rainbows that everyone imagines it to be. If you really wanted it for the reputation or financial benefits, there are many jobs out there that give you much more bang for your buck. You have to really really want to be a doctor to do it - and in some cases that may not even be enough.

The medical profession is awesome, but really think twice before you decide to go there. And, please, if you ever do, go for yourself - NOT for your parents, NOT for your family name, and NOT for the promise of money,  because all of those are just dumb. And for people who aren't in the medical field, please don't judge us or think of us as snobs. A doctor has to sacrifice a lot to get where he is, and a lot of people don't get that.

And now...I need to study :P


  1. Thanks for the post-from a fellow san diegan applying to schools this year. your post caught my attention because for one thing, my boss was telling me Jefferson is pretty intense..good luck with it all.

  2. o yea great food blog by the way. please post more!

  3. Thanks onslaught61! Jefferson is hard, but that's medical school for you. Good luck with apps!

  4. I'm a pgy-4. For you, I suggest coming back to this post after your intern year and revisiting your thoughts and feelings regarding medicine and its practice. Great food blog!



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