Recently, I had dinner with an old colleague that I trained in residency with. It’s been a while since we’ve graduated, but the topic turned to how our lives have changed since those early days. Over drinks, my friend said something that stuck with me and inspired this post.
“You know, things aren’t perfect. But we’ve got really good problems.”
He’s right. I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we are actually really fortunate to practice medicine for a living. The mind has a natural negativity bias. We often find ourselves focussing on the aspects of our work and lives we find difficult and unsatisfying. Yes, there are many stressors. And certainly, there are many ways in which our jobs are difficult. But, so are many other jobs. No career is perfect. And all professionals have their degrees of stressors and struggles.
There are so many other roads we could have traveled professionally. Doing something a lot less satisfying and certainly making much less of a difference in the lives of others.
There’s a lot about medicine that is pretty damn good. Sometimes we need a little reminder.
So yes, there are problems. But we’ve got good problems. Here are some reasons why.
1. Autonomy. In medicine, at least in emergency medicine where I practice, I essentially get to be my own boss. That means I decide how many shifts a month I’d like to practice, and how much time I’d like off. I actually have time to enjoy other things. Travel. Take up new projects (like blogging!). Medicine has allowed me to have incredible experiences all over the place.
2. You really get to help people. Sure that’s the trite thing we say before we go into medical school. We all know the reality isn’t quite as rosy as it was through those innocent lenses. But truly, every single day, I am able to provide assistance to those who are sick and suffering.
I mean, I could be in an office, punching a clock. Working to improve some companies bottom line. Or in a place where the end goal is purely financial. But in medicine, for me at least, the goal is still a truly noble one.
3. You can work and live anywhere. How many jobs are out there where you can literally pack everything up, move to another city and pretty much get a job right away? Your services are always in need, pretty much anywhere. In my younger days, I worked in three separate provinces in Canada, and have also worked in the Northwest territories. I’ve also been fortunate to work in several settings in unique locations all over the world. You’ll always be needed, wherever you go.
4. You get to solve problems every day. It’s a unique position to be in. People come to you with their complex array of symptoms that have been bothering them for a long time. They’ve been perseverating on them. Asking their friends and family and hoping for an answer or some reassurance. And boom. You’ve just given them an answer or a plan in fifteen minutes. Or sent them for an investigation or procedure that will dig deeper. Sometimes you put their pain and worry to rest. Its an incredible privilege.
5. You’re always learning and growing. Things are constantly changing. We are always reading, learning, talking to colleagues, changing our practices. We are forced to evolve as medicine evolves. It’s a career of lifelong learning. Even after almost ten years in the ER, I see cases that I’ve never seen before. There are opportunities to retrain or learn new skills. People are creating interesting new niches for themselves all the time.
6. I’m well paid for what I do. Let’s admit it. We are really well compensated for what we do. When you compare yourselves to others in society (or the world), you are in the upper echelon. It allows us luxuries and freedoms that most other people don’t get to experience. And it’s in a profession where we make a positive impact on peoples lives. Do you ever think about how fortunate you are for that?
7. Sometimes my work is really fun. I get to make broken things straight. Make pain go away. High-five patients in the ER after telling them their CT is normal. We laugh a lot and get to see the best and worst of humanity. We’ve all got some great stories to tell. Sure beats working in some corporate office somewhere.
8. People respect you. Although I’d like to think that it doesn’t matter that much, there is societal esteem that gets thrust upon you. People often project very positive qualities on you and treat you with respect. People assume I’m way smarter and capable than I actually am! Even today, doctors are still well respected in the community.
So when you’re thinking next about all of the challenges you might have in your career, thinking that the system is broken, and “if only things were different.” Take a moment and remind yourself: “We’ve got really good problems.”
It doesn’t mean that you still don’t have things to deal with. It’s just that relative to others, things are pretty good. And that perspective is important.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com