Why are you in medicine?

I was recently interviewed on a podcast and was asked the simple question, “Why are you in medicine?” In retrospect, that’s the exact question I silently ask myself in frustration and exhaustion a little bit too often while I’m in the hospital. In those moments I recognize that I feel burnt out. In those moments if someone told me that I had to repeat intern year in order to finish residency I would probably quit medicine altogether.

So much of our job as medical students, residents, fellows, and attending physicians are out of our control. Even when we are able to treat our patients appropriately, we are faced with the simple fact that many of our patients might simply not follow our recommendations. But you know what? That’s OK. We can’t control everything and acknowledging that is the first step. What we can control is how those external forces make us feel. You are in control of your own emotions and your personal sense of job satisfaction.

Residency trains physicians in how to treat patients and develop into well-rounded doctors. Sometimes, however, we lose focus on why we went into medicine in the first place. The truth of the matter is that the day to day struggles and frustrations weigh heavily on our professional and personal lives during training and those stressors likely won’t abate upon graduation to the next level of professional development. The stressors of medical school compared to residency are different but the same. The stressors of residency to fellowship or our first job as an attending physician are different but the same. Residents today more than ever need to train themselves in how to perceive job satisfaction in order to find personal enjoyment in their day to day life as a physician and in doing so help combat professional burnout. We must not lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Thinking back to the original question I was asked on the podcast, “Why are you in medicine?”, I tried thinking of my favorite aspects of my job. Things like teaching my medical students and interns, presenting interesting cases at conference, learning how to manage and treat the basics of internal medicine, and the time I spend with my patients.

As any patient could tell you doctors don’t spend much time with their patients. Unfortunately, it’s one more aspect that I feel is out of my control. I wish I could spend more time at the bedside with my patients and it’s one of the most frustrating aspects of medicine today. However, the simple fact of the matter is that our day is packed to the brim and we can only spend so much time at bedside.

But those small moments of my day are my favorite. That inseparable bond between patient and physician. Being able to tell a patient and their family in their time of need that I hear them and I’m listening and that we will figure this out together. To explain a diagnosis and why they haven’t felt well over the past few weeks. Or to console a grieving family when my sympathy is all I can offer them.

Today I reminded myself why I went into medicine, and it was invigorating. I even went back and read my personal statements from medical school and residency because I wanted to remember the version of me that applied with eyes wide open. I’m not that same person, but the passion that drove me to apply to medical school in the first place is the same passion that pushes me each and every day in the hospital. It’s the same passion that motivates me to do my personal best for each and every one of my patients day in and day out. It’s the same passion that helped me remember why I love my job.

I leave you with the same question that helped center me: “Why are you in medicine?”

Marc N. Katz is an internal medicine resident who blogs at KittyKatzMD and can be reached on Twitter @KittyKatzMD and Instagram.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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