At the moment, I should be studying for my first round of boards, but there is something I can’t get off my mind: sacrifice.
If you ask a medical student what they have had to sacrifice to study medicine, the list could go on for days. It could be small things like watching their favorite teams play or being caught up on current events. But more than likely we will list major events in our lives that we have had to miss to study medicine. These are things like family gatherings, time with friends or just a moment to relax and enjoy the world around us.
The sad part about this reality is that many people we love and care about don’t understand this. They think we are being selfish or are making up excuses to get out of something. The truth is, we sacrifice a lot to study medicine. In a way, you could say we sacrifice our lives to save yours.
I have missed out on holidays, birthdays, bridal/baby showers, parties, etc. It may seem like minute things, but it builds. It weighs heavily on you. I’ve even had classmates who had to miss out on precious family time when their parent or sibling was dying to study medicine.
You don’t ever get that time back.
Unfortunately, some doctors hold resentment for that. And honestly, they have every right to.
Now before you start to judge that statement, let me explain. Medical training puts you through the wringer. It makes you second guess your morals, values and goals. It tests your motivation and determination. And while the world is moving around you, you sit back at a desk and study. But why would you want to become a doctor if it’s so hard and you are just going to hold onto all of that resentment?
In medical school, we have a ton of information thrown at us. I once heard somewhere that you are taught 90% of medicine within your first two years. In some aspects, I believe that’s true. Now whether you remember all of it or not, that’s the tricky part. I learn about thousands of diseases, symptoms, and outcomes to one day save a life. I have put myself through all of this hell just to see someone live another day.
And it’s worth it.
Don’t get confused and think I’m sticking up for those doctors who are complete jerks to everyone. I’m not by any means. I just wish our patients and staff would understand why we get angry or why we seem so cold.
Every day we are faced with the question: Was it worth it? Was it worth missing out on the wedding of your two best friends? Was it worth missing your mom’s birthday again? Was it worth missing your dad take his last breath? Anyone would find it difficult to say yes to those questions. Some student doctors can never answer yes. They either throw in the towel or stick it out because of all the debt on the line. Either way, we fail at something.
Life or med school? Pick one.
We take our failures very personally. We are held to an extremely high standard by society. And that’s OK, but sometimes I need to be a person. I need to be me. I’ve heard some people say that doctors are paid way too much. Believe me — I hear ya. The health care industry in America has many problems and no one has a sound solution. But when you factor in the amount of debt and years of emotional stress, I don’t think they get paid enough. No amount of money can replace missing those big life events. No amount of money will change the sadness in your mother’s voice or bring your dad back from the dead. But if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the exact same way. All I can say is, “I’m sorry” to those I hurt and hope they understand. I hope when I save that patient’s life one day, I can answer yes. I pray that when I lose my patient, I can still answer yes to every question.
I miss out on so much for others to enjoy life’s moments more. I allow myself to feel guilty when I take half a day off from studying because it could have prevented me from losing my future patient. I allow myself to feel like a failure when I don’t have all the answers because its the difference between having a competitive board score to just being mediocre. But I will continue to sacrifice, because the tears of joy from patients’ families, the hugs, the thank-yous make it all worth it.
The author is an anonymous medical student who blogs at MyOsteoPATH.
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