The selfless people in medicine are the people a patient never sees

It’s been two days now since I basked in the glory. I still find myself floating above the ground. I can still feel the weight of the heavy gown and the velvet tam. I can feel the tickle of the tassel on my ear. My eyes fill with tears at the thought of my classmates – those who toiled alongside me – experiencing the same emotions. The reminders of our newfound responsibility echo in my ears, peppered with compliments from family and friends about the noble, giving, altruistic profession I’ve joined.

As young physicians we proudly take our place on the pedestal that society presents us. How could we not? We’ve worked hard for what we know and, with the help of others in our clinics and hospitals, we can actually save lives. We hear it so often, “I’m so glad there are folks like you who are willing to help others,” or “You are such a selfless person, you’ll be a wonderful doctor.”

The truth is, I am as selfish as they come.

Every time I pick up a book or a journal, every time I catch a baby, every time I hold a scalpel or a pair of Metzenbaum scissors, I steal time from those who love me – my wife, my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, and my friends. I repeatedly send the message that I care more about a complete stranger than I care about my own flesh and blood.

And they’ve yet to make a sound. They just sit there, waiting patiently, until my next text message, email or phone call. They wait until my next vacation, then they tell me how proud they are of the work I do. They tell me how lucky my patients must be.

The truth is, I’m the lucky one. People entrust me with their deepest secrets, their doubts and fears, their health. They allow me to take care of their unborn children, and they allow me to meet their children even before they do. I have the pleasure of placing my stethoscope on my patients’ chests, closing my eyes, and being present with them – in awe of the beauty that is the human body. I experience the joy of hearing a patient say “thank you” even when all I did was listen. I receive far more than I give.

The selfless people in medicine are the people a patient never sees. They are the husbands and wives, the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. They are the nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. They give far more than I could even imagine, never complaining, only waiting, for the next text message, phone call or email. They selflessly wait for the next vacation.

And I just stand there, gowned and gloved, waiting for the next incredible experience.

Ryan Stewart is an osteopathic physician who can be found on Twitter @stuboo.

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