It will start as a minor curiosity. Maybe a student will seem slightly too close to the resident on your team. When the grades are posted, you’ll wonder why you didn’t get honors, but he did. You might wallow for a few days. Make an offhanded comment to your fellow students. Then you’ll let it go and move on. Or so you think. Until during surgery when the scrub nurse rips into you to make a point to the rest of your peers. And then the surgeon does the same to her in the operating room.
There will be other times. During residency, you will roll your eyes when you realize your co-intern is sick again, and you’re up for all the admissions. You will curse the medical student who created the cockeyed explanation and scared the heck out of the frightened social admit in room 5. You might not yell. You might not lose your cool. But rage will boil over from time to time. You may let it loose on the radiology tech who is refusing to get up in the middle of the night and do your stat study.
And you will find yourself yelling uncontrollably at the cowering patient who pulled you out of the examining room with the young guy with melanoma who was finally willing to talk about hospice because she forgot to ask a question thirty minutes ago during her appointment.
When you look into her tear soaked eyes, a hard reality will come upon you. You are angry. You have been for years. Rage is constantly simmering below the surface scalding you and those you interact with.
You have truly become a doctor.
My advice is simple. Forgive yourself. Remember that that medical student who undercut you was wallowing in much the same way as you. The surgical scrub nurse had felt a hundred times the abuse from the surgeon who was still scarred from his own training. Your fellow resident was actually sick and spent all night puking in the bathroom. The radiology tech hadn’t slept well for weeks. The secretary had been cursed out by the patient for not making room in your schedule. The anxious patient was suffering, and the ER attending was trying to be compassionate.
And yes, the young melanoma guy is dying and no one is dealing with it.
Then shrug your shoulders, exhale and decide to turn the anger into love and understanding.
Life is much better that way.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of Five Moments: Short Works of Fiction and I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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