When I was 18, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to help people. I wanted to make things better for others. So, I studied hard in college. I couldn’t afford to pay for test prep classes for the medical school entrance exam, so I studied on my own. I would lock myself in my room and study for six to eight hours at a time for weeks in preparation for the exam. My roommates thought I was crazy as they enjoyed their nights and weekends being college students. My hard work paid off, and I did well enough on my first try to get into the medical school that I aspired to attend. I studied hard in medical school. I was amongst the brightest of the bright and boy, were they impressive. I learned much about medicine and life in those four years. Then I worked my way through residency. It was tough. Residency demanded of me physically, mentally, and emotionally more than anything else I had ever done.
I got my first job in private practice after residency, and I worked tirelessly. I worked 80 to 90 hours a week. I worked early mornings; I worked late at night; I worked all night; I worked 72 hours straight; I didn’t take vacations; I didn’t see my husband; I delayed starting a family. My physical and mental endurance was constantly tested. My emotional resolve was tested. Yet, I showed up every day to help, to try to make life better for someone else.
Somewhere along the way, though, I realized people did not appreciate my work. I was told by the media that the “health care system” was failing and doctors were the cause. I was told that I made too much money, yet I made ten to fifty times less than the administrators and health insurance CEOs. The media told me that doctors have no heart. The malpractice attorneys told me that I wasn’t perfect, and I must pay a financial and emotional penance for my imperfections. The people I was trying to help told me that they didn’t trust doctors; they would rather trust their internet search or their best friend. It became hard to continue to show up to work with the same vigor. I doubted my choice. I doubted what I was contributing to the world.
Now a worldwide health crisis has occurred. No one is immune. The disease is novel. We are in an unprecedented time. Doctors are on the frontline, and they are being asked to do more with less. They are being asked to work in unsafe environments. Yet we continue to show up. We show up for the community. We show up for people we don’t know.
I am not asking you to feel sorry for me or for any other physician. I don’t want pity. I chose this profession, and I continue to choose it every day. What I am asking for is your respect and your trust. I am asking you to respect me for my tireless hard work and dedication to caring for you and your family. I am asking you to respect my sacrifice to help you. I am asking you to respect me for my knowledge and thousands of hours of experience. I am asking you to trust that every day I put your needs above my own. I am asking you to trust that every decision that I make does not go unscrutinized in my brain a million times over. I am asking you to trust that I take your health and well-being seriously. I ask that you trust that I want to always do what is best for you.
I am asking that you please stop judging me. Please stop treating me like I am the enemy. Please stop threatening me. Please stop holding me to an impossible standard. I am human, just like you. I will make mistakes just like you. I have made mistakes just like you. I am sorry for the mistakes I will make and the mistakes I have made in the past. I will never let myself forget them. This is the practice of medicine, and it is not perfect. I am not omnipotent, and neither are you. Every day I show up to help you, someone I don’t know. I give everything I have for you. I hope that someday that will mean something again.
Megan Gray is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
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