Have you ever stopped to consider who you are or what defines you? Is your self-worth or self-esteem wrapped up in those two little letters “Dr.”? How would you feel if they were removed? Would you know who you are without them?
As medical students we work hard, study long hours, sit tons of exams and tests, to ultimately prove we have what it takes — that we are intelligent enough, to be a doctor. Parents burst with pride on graduation day; watching what was once their little Johnny or Jane running round in nappies, now reach the dizzy heights of intellectual prowess required to be a doctor.
We feel good about ourselves, our many years of hard work paying off as finally we get the stamp that says, “You are a doctor.” Credit cards and checkbooks are changed to include those two little letters “Dr.” that the world too may know who they are transacting with. We introduce ourselves as “Dr. ” to patients, and we are there to answer the call should one go out on an airplane: “Is there a doctor on board?” We relish the new-found status those two little letters seem to bring — instant respect and authority, where people might actually listen to us and value our opinion.
We have gone from being a nobody student, to a somebody “Dr.”
A turbocharge boost to our self-esteem — that for some can lead to an air of superiority and arrogance, feeling better than and looking down on others. Those two little letters can cover up a host of insecurities and vulnerabilities — feelings of not being good enough or even enough, not being perfect, are pushed to the side because we have the title that tells the world we are OK, we are enough, we are intelligent — so please do not question my authority.
Hidden deep underneath the superiority and arrogance is the insecure little boy or girl who feels a fraud, feels like they will never be enough and lives in fear of being found out. Feelings they hide from themselves as they puff their chest out, blow their top and try to convince the world they are more than they feel they are. All hot air and steam, an illusion that can evaporate with a pinprick of truth.
For what we do is not who we are.
Many doctors associate what they do with who they are. In other words, they consider their job to define them, that those two little letters are them.
To define ourselves by what we do is a disaster waiting to happen; it is a fragile platform to stand upon and one that can easily crack and crumble to ruin, leaving the person inside feeling lost, empty, insecure, uncertain, anxious and deeply unsure of who they are.
Who we are is so much more than what we do. We are human beings before we are doctors, human beings who care, love, laugh, have fun, relationships and enjoy people. None of these things need to cease when we become doctors. We don’t need to put on our serious face or professional mantle; we just need to be who we are, be ourselves, be natural and let the love in our hearts shine through all that we do.
When we stand on the rock of knowing who we are as human beings first and foremost, then we have no need to impress, be superior, look down upon others, be aloof and keep our distance. We know and can feel there is a place of greatness within us and within every human being, even if we are not all living that greatness. Just knowing it is there, to be tapped into and lived from as we choose to, can make all the difference. We know we are no longer dependent on two small letters for our sense of self and worth; for who we are already is so much grander than any amount of letters can bring, be they before or after our name.
And so whilst it can certainly be challenging if we lose our job, are made redundant, are suspended, or just retire, these challenges may be easier to deal with if we know that greatness is still there within, untouched and unaffected by any of that, for what we do is not who we are.
And on the other side of that coin, bringing that greatness within to all that we do can transform our lives, our work, and relationships. There is a different but grander sense of purpose, a spring of joy in our step and a sparkle in our eyes when we know that what we bring does not solely depend on what we know, but who we are. We underestimate the healing power we bring when we are just ourselves, being human, being present, being the natural loving and caring beings that we are with grace and greatness, where the love in our hearts can shine through our eyes, our gentle touch or tender words.
So by all means embrace the hard-earned title of “Dr.” and the responsibility it brings, but let us not misuse it, as I used to do to have power over others, to feel superior, or better than, or to bolster a fragile sense of self. Know first and foremost that we are much more than what can be defined by two little letters or any amount of degrees — and when we bring that to the fore, we know nobody is nobody, and everybody is somebody — somebody great, wise and beautiful, just like us.
Eunice J. Minford is a general surgeon in the United Kingdom who blogs at the Soulful Doctor. She can be reached on Twitter @thesoulfuldoc.
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