What challenges do you see yourself facing as a doctor?

“What challenges do you see yourself facing as a doctor?”

I’m sitting in a suit, facing a young Asian woman with black, round glasses across a desk. On the desk in front of her is an iPad, and she sits cross-legged, hands resting on her legs. I’m in my interview for medical school, and the woman across me, who introduced herself as Angela, is awaiting my response.

I pause and mentally check my body posture. Am I sitting straight? Am I smiling? Are my arms relaxed? I quickly remind myself of the script I’d practiced over and over again, and begin.

“Well, that’s a hard question. While medicine is incredibly rewarding, there are so many challenging facets to it. I’ll give two challenges that apply the most to me. Firstly: The work-life balance.”

I’m on a tight time limit: 5 minutes to answer four questions until the bell rings and I’m thrown into the next room, to another station. I quickly explain the foreseeable challenges of balancing large time commitments to patients and learning whilst having a normal social life. Angela looks bored. She’s no doubt heard this dialogue before.

“Another challenge which I see myself facing as a doctor is the emotional aspect of medicine.”

Angela raises an eyebrow, inviting me to explain what I mean.

“I imagine there will be times where I will come across patients in such a critical condition that I’m unable to help them, no matter how hard I try. In times like these, I worry that this inability to help will put an emotional toll on me, affecting my ability to work.”

A voice silently cries out at me as I talk.

Don’t lie Eric. What you fear isn’t caring too much, it’s caring too little. It’s the fear that one day, you’ll no longer see patients as people with lives and problems as complex as your own, but as obstacles waiting to be diagnosed – obstacles that can be dealt with by prescribing little pills. It’s the fear that you’ll no longer care and listen to patients who are scared and confused, but instead face their questions with apathy and frustration. It’s the fear that one day, your desire to help others will be quenched, replaced by an emotionless, robotic void that lacks empathy and seeks only to get patients in and out as fast as possible, forgetting that they too, are human, and require human connection as well as pharmacological treatment. No, the greatest challenge is to be able help others regain their humanity, without the cost of your own.

“Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

Angela looks up at me two questions later, seeming pleased with my responses. I’d finished early.

Yes. Say it. The voice inside me begs. But I can’t. “No.” I say after some consideration, smiling at her. She smiles back. The bell rings a few seconds later. I thank her, open the door and leave, move to the next room and quiet down my inner voice.

Eric Tian is an incoming medical student who blogs at Neoteric Reflections.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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