If you won the lottery, would you quit being a doctor?

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On October 23, 2018, the Mega Millions lottery jackpot was 1.6 billion dollars, making it one of the largest lottery jackpots in history.

In the week leading up to the drawing, the hospital was abuzz with chatter. Discussions about the possibility of becoming an instant billionaire were just too good to resist.

During that week, I found myself sitting at the nurse’s station in one of the ICUs at midnight. A nurse grabbed a manila folder on the desk in front of me and started cramming dollars bills inside.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh, we’re pulling our money together to buy lottery tickets,” she said, “you know the jackpot is over a billion dollars?”

“Yes, I’ve heard,” I reply. “Well, drinks on you if you win.”

She laughs, “Darling, if I win, drinks on me, every night for the rest of our lives.”

“Deal,” I reply.

And with that, began a seemingly endless discussion in every corner of the hospital, with the most unlikely groups of people, about what it would be like to win lots of money.

It’s so fun to dream about what you could do with 1.6 billion dollars. It’s a sum so large, it’s hard to know what that really translates to in terms of purchasing power. CNBC actually ran an article about it. For reference, you could by one of Richard Branson’s islands, 118 Bugatti’s or to put in terms we might be able to understand, send 2,544 students to Harvard for four years.

My fellow interns and I discuss the trips we would like to take. I can feel the warm sands of Bora Bora calling my name already. I’d also like to take the Four Seasons around the world vacation. We dream of boats and cars and fancy, beautiful self-indulgence.

The conversation always seems to wind its way around to the more practical uses of money; after all, we are still sensible human beings. Paying off student loans is high on the list for most.

For me, I wouldn’t mind getting a personal assistant, chef, and trainer. Money may not buy happiness but can sure as hell make your life easier. My daily commute to the hospital includes a sometimes unsavory section of a freeway onramp, which I generally find myself walking alone at 5 a.m. in the dark and freezing cold. I could get a chauffeur or a self-driving Telsa. Or maybe I could have four toga-clad men carry me a la Cleopatra style. I imagine that this is how most billionaire’s get around.

I could have a makeup artist do my makeup while I was still sleeping, so I could honestly report that I woke up like this, just like a Jenner-Kardashian.

When everyone has cast their vote for what kind personal assistant they would have, we nearly always would start talking about the good we would do with our billion dollars minus an expensive vacation, student loans and the salary of our assistant/makeup artist/chef.

“Would I have enough to name the hospital after myself?” one well-meaning intern friend wondered.

“Maybe I’ll pay to name a staircase after myself, or a bathroom.” said another.

We talk about how we could fund the student-run clinics for many years to come, or start a free clinic of our own. We could contribute to research and charities and support our community and causes that matter to us. We dream about how much of a difference we could make with that kind of coin.

And then, when it seems we are all out of fantasies and dreams and plans for our imaginary cash, there is a lull in the conversation when invariably the question is raised. If you had a billion dollars in your bank account today, would you show up for work in the morning?

Silence.

“Of course we would,” one intern quips without missing a beat. “You can’t buy this,” she says, “you think you can buy a medical license? That you can buy helping people like we do. Do you think you can buy the knowledge we have? No,” she says, “no, you can’t.”

As I trudge towards the hospital down my usual route, I am reminded of a dream I used to have. One that I find myself living. Not only did I get into medical school (something I wanted desperately), I finished. My diploma is sitting on my desk (unframed and barely rescued from yesterday’s spilled coffee) but never mind. Here we are, living what was once only just a dream. A crazy idea made real.

You don’t need money to dream; you just need guts and a standard issue imagination.

Elon Musk said famously in an interview when asked how he came up with Telsa, and the hyperloop replied, “I just wanted to think about the future and not feel sad.”

The nurses in the ICU didn’t win the lottery, and neither did we. And the Mega Millions jackpot has since returned to some amount too unremarkable to make the news. But we shouldn’t stop sharing our crazy, wonderful, beautiful dreams. We should huddle in hallways and gather outside the cafeteria and in workrooms and whisper our hopes for the future — and wonder how we can make them come true. And who knows, just like Elon Musk, the crazy ideas in your head may very well be worth billions, but dreaming them up is most certainly priceless.

Fiona Scott is an anesthesiology resident who blogs at Nerd’s Eye View.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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