Pretty much on a weekly basis I come across an article about how awful life is as a practicing physician. Articles focus on how unhappy physicians are with their jobs, with their hours, with their pay or with health care reform.
After almost a decade of practice, the fact is that I like my job.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not: quite far from it, in fact. There are certainly many times when practicing medicine can seem like a very difficult task; the long hours, high pressure and emotionally charged environment can take its toll on anyone. Although practicing medicine is certainly a challenge, I have to say I love being a doctor and am thankful for the privilege of practicing medicine every single day.
There is something very special about being a physician.
On graduation day we all take the Hippocratic Oath. We promise to help the sick, and in doing so we shoulder a profound responsibility. For me, helping a really sick patient to get better is absolutely the best thing about my job. Not many professions can experience the true satisfaction that we feel when we know we have made a significant and positive change in a person’s life. The enormous wealth of training, investment (some will think “expense”) and opportunity that has been given to me is fixated on one goal – to attend to the patient in front of me.
Another special aspect of our profession is that we get to experience and understand the entire spectrum of the human condition. We may be privy to a secret the patient entrusts to no other. We see people at their very worst and their very best. We are present when babies are born and when patients die. Although these moments can be intense, we must remember that our patients entrust us with seeing them at their most vulnerable.
On a lighter note, practicing as a physician means having a secure, stable job and a good quality of life. (Although the specter of our student loans may haunt us.) We have a huge range of specialties and subspecialties to choose from, which allows us to really tailor our careers to our personal preferences; we get to be the boss if we want and we can practice pretty much anywhere from coast to coast. If we really have the travel bug, we can use our medical skills to travel the world, volunteering with various organizations.
Another great aspect of our profession is that it hones skills which are useful in many other areas. For example, we become adept at triaging and prioritizing tasks. We learn to troubleshoot problems and make critical decisions under pressure. We learn how to interact with children and the elderly and everybody in between. We learn how to manage other people (although initially it seems like all we do is take direction). In short, we learn a lot of really useful life skills.
And with that in mind, the final point I would like to make is that we are surrounded by other like-minded, hard-working and innovative people. So many doctors today are also involved with innovation in fields like technology, biomedical engineering, social media and consulting. It is a profession that encourages research and collaboration. We, among all professions, really have the ability to make our own career into exactly what we want. We can pick and choose what we want to do and, with the right motivation, can make it exactly what we want it to be.
So next time you are caffeine-overloaded and sleep-deprived and the pager has gone off three times in a short toilet break, try to remember some of the good things and be grateful you are not stuck behind a desk all day watching the clock.
Arshya Vahabzadeh child and adolescent psychiatry resident. This article originally appeared in The American Resident Project.