Are you happy with your decision to go into medicine?

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On a rare Sunday morning, I woke and had the time to make breakfast for my kids and their cousin, who’d stayed the night. My nephew said, “Thanks, Aunt Erin, I feel like I never see you.”

To which my oldest (10) stated very matter-of-factly, with no ill-intent: “That’s because she’s never home.”

Being a full time, private practice physician and mom to 5 kids, with a healthy social life, it’s extremely common to get a variation of the question, “Will you support/suggest your kids become a doctor?” More specifically, I’ve gotten, “Would you want your daughter to go into medicine?”

You can’t help but take this to mean, “Are you happy with your decision to go into medicine?”

Despite the ever-changing climate, and somewhat significant downsides (insurance requirements/EMR/ commitment in both time and emotional energy), medicine still remains a stable career. If you become a board-certified physician, there is (are) a (million) job(s) for you. This job will not be low income. This job is something you can always be proud of (if practiced correctly) and full of satisfaction, knowing you are helping and treating your fellow man. This job typically comes with an element of automatic “respect” in society. This job allows you to use your knowledge daily, as well as expand your knowledge daily. It’s good for the curious; it’s good for the creative; it’s good for the caring. This job has no specific personality type.

As a mother, probably, my single greatest goal is to raise five happy, self-sufficient, contributory members of society. That’s it. Do I think having a career in medicine can accomplish this? Absolutely.

Will I caution them? Yes. Will I sugar-coat the state of medicine? No.

I think, as a mother, we can see, from an extremely early age, our children’s strengths. Their weakness. Their struggles. What motivates them. What frustrates them. So, I’d like to think I would counsel them appropriately if they came to me, interested in the medical profession.

I’d tell them that becoming a physician requires patience, determination, dedication, confidence, sacrifice. So, so, so much sacrifice.

I’d tell them, no matter what you go into, inpatient, outpatient, surgery, specialties, primary care, you will work more hours than you want to, and some days will be hard. So very hard.

Some days will be hard and without reward. The outcome won’t be great. The patient you spent so many hours treating, worrying about, caring for might not get better. You might be giving the hardest news any human ever has to hear. They might die. They might not appreciate your services. They get mad at you. Give you poor reviews. Abuse you, for lack of a better term, all because you did what was best for them to the best of your knowledge and training (which will be extensive.)

Some days will be hard, yet wonderful. You might deliver a baby, bring life into this world. You might be the one to tell someone their cancer is gone. You get to help someone through a rough patch. You are trusted by your patients in their most vulnerable times. You’ll get to hug someone who comes in with a smile on their face to thank you for saving their life. You save lives.

You save people from acute infections, from ruptured appendixes, from traumas, from cancer, from mental illness.

You save lives. You change lives. You improve lives.

But to do this, you risk destroying life. You bear the heaviest of burden. Practicing medicine is such an honorable profession that comes with the deepest responsibilities. And the scariest outcomes.

You have to know the answer. And if you don’t know the answer, you need to know that you don’t know. You must first be humble … and then you better figure out the answer, or where to get it. There is no giving up in medicine.

And, because there’s no giving up, some days you will miss Holidays. Your family. Your friends. Your spouse. Your kids.

The hardest part, as a parent, will be missing your children’s sporting events, school programs, recitals, birthdays, bedtimes, bath times, and yes, even Sunday morning breakfasts.

You hope they all understand. You hope they know you’d be there if you could. You hope they know you’re not picking a stranger’s well-being over theirs.

You hope they know that you’ve been bestowed an incredible gift, and that, for some reason, you’ve been called to share it. Really, one of the truest forms of altruism. You hope that maybe they even love and respect you for it.

In fact, maybe, just maybe, they will love and respect you so much for it … they want to be it.

So, when you ask, will I support my child going into medicine? The short answer? Absolutely, and with caution.

Erin O’Laughlin is a family physician who blogs at Cornucopia.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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