Medical students can make a difference in health care

I recently read an article that my future in medicine would be mediocre.  It made me reflect on some things.  Like the author of that article, I am a fourth-year medical student waiting to graduate and start my training in residency, the training that will prepare me for a successful career as a physician.

Like the author of the article, I decided to become a doctor with the hope of really making a difference in people’s lives.  I, however, do not share the bleak perspective of my future being “mediocre at best.”  I’ve come a long way from where I started.  Perhaps being a non-traditional medical student gives me that perspective but, irrespective of that, as future physicians I believe that we need to objectively appreciate where we stand.

If one equates success to climbing a mountain, as fourth-year medical students, I believe that we are halfway there.  We just have to step back and see the larger picture.  We also have to recognize how privileged we are to be where we are and remind ourselves how a little over four years ago we were nervous about the prospect of not even making it to medical school.  We got the opportunity, and frankly, we have to make the best of it.

As physicians in training, we sometimes feel like the main characters of a puppy show with endless hoops to clear before getting our final reward.  Stress and lack of control are predominant themes among resident conversations, and seasoned clinicians talk about being pulled in each and every direction and complain of checkboxes and nonsensical requirements that limit their ability to be “good doctors.”

I see the day-to-day stress that physicians face and the burnout that the article talks about but, as the same article even suggests, I also see how those same physicians work to make a difference one patient at a time.  Sure, we may not spend as long as we wish with each of our patients, and many times we have to sacrifice personal time for things that we feel do not benefit our patients directly.  But in spite of all this, it is imperative that we continue to do as best as we can with what we have.   At the same time, we have to continue to work to make things better.  And by that, I mean advocating for our patients and for health care reform because that is the only way we can hope to improve some of the conditions that the article describes and that seem all too familiar.

Advocacy and leadership are both key to injecting better “health” and more “care” into health care, both for the sake of our patients and for our own.  If we don’t do it, we have to ask ourselves, “Who will?”  We and other health professionals are the front lines of patient care.  We practice medicine daily; we see how our health care system impacts our patients directly, and we also understand how it impacts the work we do and how it even affects our personal lives.  Why not use that knowledge to improve our health care system, either as active leaders in advocacy or as advisers to those who work in legislature and who make the decisions that affect us all?

From our perspective, it is easy to feel like there’s not much we can do.  The mountain we’ve been climbing has had steep slopes, and at times we may feel like we are about to fall off the edge, but if we just stop for a moment and look back, we will see how far we’ve come.  I believe that we get to choose the attitude with which we face our reality.   We are at a point in medicine where we can make a difference and really have an influence on how our health care system works.  We just have to see it and understand it so that we channel our efforts to make the necessary changes that will positively impact how we practice medicine and ultimately the type of care we deliver to our patients.

Roosevelt V. Campbell is a medical student.

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