Practicing physicians should remember to encourage aspiring ones!  My column in today’s Greenville News.

https://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20091019/OPINION/910190311/1016/Ed-Leap–Rewards-are-worth-challenges

Here’s the text, as well.

The Rewards of Medicine are Worth the Struggle

An unfortunate side-effect of the turmoil in modern medicine is that physicians, speaking to young, enthusiastic pre-medical students, often say ‘don’t do it!’  I have recently met a number of college students who aspire to become physicians, and I’m saddened by how many tell me this tale.

Over and over, medical doctors warn young people that medicine is a poor career choice.  Practicing physicians bemoan their struggles with lawsuits, lack of respect, drug-seekers, regulatory burdens and their endless battles with insurers both governmental and private. They tell students to pursue law, plumbing or thing else that might make them economically successful, but which (they believe) will involve less risk and fewer annoyances.

I don’t know how many potential physicians have been dissuaded from their pursuit of a medical career by those already in the profession; certainly some.  Fortunately, students are often so focused, so passionate and so idealistic that they completely ignore advice to the contrary, and still walk the long road to medical school, residency and practice.

Looking back, I don’t recall being discouraged from going to medical school.     I had some wonderful mentors who told me the problems with the profession, such as they were, but who also urged me to move forward.  I’m thankful that they did.  But then, as many doctors also honestly say, ‘it isn’t like it used to be.’

So, perhaps we should ask, ‘why are the physicians so dissatisfied that they wouldn’t want even their own children to practice medicine?’  The easy answer is the standard one:  ‘they’re greedy, they’re unhappy, they’re burnt-out.’  But those answers, so glibly provided, aren’t the truth.  Physicians are often unhappy because they entered medicine as idealistic as their student protégés; but then they were smacked around by reality.

The reality is that medicine is difficult.  There are too many rules, too many middle-managers, too many state and federal regulations.  Medicine is difficult because of the rampant ‘medicalization’ of ordinary life.  That is, modern humans frequently want diagnoses and pills for every condition; including life events.  The expectations placed on medicine are not unrealistic; they’re fantastical, so lawsuits are standard fare.

Some of this is the fault of physicians, caused by holding ourselves out as infallible, by forgetting our humanity, by over-reaching our abilities and opinions of ourselves.  Some of it our culture has done by abandoning truth and responsibility.

But medicine is also difficult because, well, it always has been.  Caring for people day and night, watching suffering, seeing patients die, making mistakes, working exhausted, these have been the conditions of medical practice for ages.  But, combined with the endless regulatory, legal, cultural and economic skirmishes, it all seems daunting.  It’s no surprise that physicians sometimes advise against it.

When young people hear older physicians say ‘don’t do it,’ they should take notes.  They should accept the reality that it will be hard, that it will sometimes seem overwhelming, and that there are things that need to be fixed.  Not all calls for reform are unreasonable.  We can do better; we just need to agree on what to change.

But, older physicians should take a few minutes to offer aspiring physicians hope and purpose; and to reassure them that our difficulties have been tempered by delights.  Young people who are interested in becoming physicians should occasionally hear older ones wax poetic.

We have a duty to describe the sheer delight of delivering new life, making a rare diagnosis, stopping pain and infection.  We must tell them the singular pleasure of knowing the human form so well that, with a touch or glance, we can discern its dysfunction.  We should tell students the twin glories of preserving life, and easing the final passage from life.

Students must see medicine, not merely as a job to choose, but as a calling to obey.  The truth is, not everyone can do it.  No, the material isn’t inherently hard.  It’s more than that.  It’s that not everyone can endure, can think critically while sleepless, can seize the moment boldly when needed, can bear the burden of anxiety and the self-examination of critical failure.  The ability to become a good physician is a unique gift.

Therefore, when we grumpy old doctors look into those excited young eyes, bright with a desire to help and heal, we should speak carefully; both with concern for the one asking and with regard for the future of medicine.

And we should temper our advice with the certainty that we, also, will need doctors before very long.

God bless you richly today and always!

Edwin

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