As a third-generation physician, I grew up thinking and dreaming of a being a physician, and 33 years later, I am still living the dream. I dreamt of saving people’s lives. I dreamt of a day like today when I received a LinkedIn request from a young lady on whom, 21 years ago, I performed a living donor liver transplant from her mother.
Today she is graduating from college and hopes to work in healthcare and would “love to catch up and thank you for everything.” I dreamt of using my skills to perform liver transplants so children could grow up, parents could enjoy raising their children, and grandparents could see their grandchildren grow up. These are the dreams that kept me studying and putting in the long hours of a brutal, but rewarding, training program.
These are amazing events and when I entered medicine were not even possible. As unlikely as these events are, I am blessed to not only to dream of them but to actually accomplish them. Events more unlikely to occur would not even be worth dreaming of, thus I have repressed a dream for 29 years.
My son was born 29 years ago, and my only dream for him was to be healthy. Born in the throes of cardiac decelerations, pre-mature and with neonatal jaundice, I was just hoping his was brain was normal and he did not have biliary atresia (the subject of my first peer-reviewed publication). As he developed a competency for math and science, and a love of helping people through countless hours of service, I thought, perhaps, he would become a fourth-generation physician. His love of helping the under-resourced drove him to earn a MPH, and I thought that maybe his calling would be to help populations rather than through hands-on clinical practice helping individuals. Then he started concentrating on applying to medical school.
As we all know the odds of getting into medical school are low and the path is daunting for everyone. I could dream that he might get into medical school and provided the counseling, mentorship, and parenting to encourage him to do want he enjoys and makes him happy. He and several thousand other qualified applicants applied and, as a faculty member of the University of Chicago, I tried to assess his application objectively. He had some unique characteristics and qualifications, and also some relative weaknesses, but I thought he would likely get into medical school. When members of the admissions committee at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine informed me that children of faculty members face a higher bar, so as not to appear to cater to faculty, I thought that his formal medical education would start at a different institution. I was OK with that.
He was accepted and decided to attend the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. I starting dreaming of him being in my operating room, teaching him anatomy, how to tie knots, etc. However, I would not let myself dream of the events past this level of involvement. What if I got a job offer at another institution that was too good to turn down while he was in medical school? I would miss out on helping him start his clinical rotations, miss out on his unannounced visits to my office just to talk or study for Step 1. Those are events that I could think about and process.
However, it was not until I was lined up with other faculty who had helped mold him into a young physician in the academic procession for his graduation that I allowed myself to dream. Through all the uncertainties and against all odds, I, as a faculty member of his medical school for 24 years, was going to provide him with his academic hood and welcome him into medicine. It is odd, that it is an academic ceremony which bestows a degree that allows young men and women to transform from students into young physicians whose minds and hands are now expected to heal and care. The faculty of every medical school take this responsibility seriously, but few are able to live the dream of being the faculty member with the privilege of providing the symbol of transformation for one of his or her children. If I were to go through it again, I would still not allow myself to dream of the event, as the joy of that moment would put too much pressure on those who you love. For those that can share this experience, cherish the event.
J. Michael Millis is a surgeon.
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