A Resident’s response to “Think Medical School Is For You? You’re Probably Wrong.”

Think Medical School Is For You? You’re Probably Wrong. (From the Globe and Mail by Katherine Sinclair)

I found this article on my Facebook news feed today and I read it.  At first I agreed with it.  Then it kind of bothered me.  I think I am in the middle when it comes to this piece.

You see, I do agree that lots of people go in to medicine because it is the next step.  It is what people expect.  That being said, I think the same thing can be said about people going into Master’s and PhD programs, people going to Law school, etcetera.  If you are bright and do well, people expect you to keep going.

That doesn’t mean you are doing something blindly.

I also agree that lots of people say their motivation for going into medicine is “to help people.”  The real reason why is a good think to think about.  That being said, sometimes this kind of decision isn’t always made of a cut and dry reason.  To help people…  That was partly mine.  And yes, many people secretly want the prestige or the money.  I can honestly say that wasn’t really mine. At least not the money part.  Prestige, sure, I guess.  I wanted to prove I could do it.  But, after I have done it I hate being called “doctor.”   I seriously wanted to help people and do more and differently than I could as a Nuc Med Tech.  Could I have been a nurse?  Sure.  But, I wanted to be on the technical side of things and the care side of things.  Medicine made the most sense for me.  

Does motivation have something to do with the happiness of people?  Sure.  Do people who went into medicine not knowing what they got into get screwed over?  All the time.  I think that is more of an issue of the screening process and education process. People should know what they are getting themselves in to.  Life experience counts for something just as much as grades do.

Most medical students get used to no longer being “the best” when they hit med school.  People start failing then.  It is a shock to the system, but again, I think not different from other professional degrees. And yes, that sucks because you are used to being the best wherever you were before.  That is life, though.  

Life experience is super important.  People skills are even more important.  People who are good with people, who are willing and able to help and not afraid to get a bit dirty and involved do well.  Grades don’t beat good bedside manner.  That is a fact.  It shouldn’t be shocking, but I get that it can be for some people.

That being said, most people don’t like not hearing “good job” and being at the bad end of interactions time and time again.  I agree that this is the case in many internships and isn’t that different in medicine.  Lots of jobs are thankless.  I agree that this is part of life in that kind of position, but that doesn’t make it right in any field.  

I also have to argue that the culture in medicine is such that people are often (historically) made to feel stupid in order to “learn.”  That the apprenticeship is more trial by fire.  I don’t know what other professions are like, but talking to friends in other fields, it is more ridiculous in medicine.  It is a real problem.  It is getting better, but it is still real.

I have to argue that although I was used to being “the best” and I don’t like failing, it doesn’t crush my soul.  I feel disappointed.  Some days I cry or feel bad.  I’m not just a spoiled child who is trying to avoid the real world by prolonging my education.  I am fully aware of real life.  I had jobs to pay for school, I paid bills and lived on my own.  

Its true that you can’t fail.  Once you’re in, they might make you repeat things, but most people get through and come out the other side as a doctor.  And then, they do a residency.  They might have to repeat a few rotations and exams, but most people come out a practicing doctor.  I think that is a huge issue.  Huge.  Some people are crappy doctors and shouldn’t be doctors.  Fact.

I can only imagine if you are someone who went into all this not knowing and not really wanting to do it, they would be more depressed and unhappy than someone who is happy in their job.  It just makes sense.  But, that happens in any career.

The suicide rate is ridiculously high in young physicians.  The burnout rate is too.  There is a problem.  I think it is both in the system and in the students.  That there isn’t a good, safe out when you get in med school.  That it is bizarre to change careers.  That we have to be perfect and are kind of used to that.  

I agree that medical school is not the right place for many people, including some of the people that get in.  I have worked with people I have thought must hate their jobs.  We really need to think about who is getting in (and who is not) as well as the system issues and hospital culture.  

Medical school should not be a defacto next step.  It drives me crazy when people assume they’ll do med school because they are smart with no foresight about what it really involves.  It also drives me crazy when people generalize me to that group of people.  

That being said, people getting in for the right or wrong reasons does not account for all of the issues that are being brought to the forefront with residents and young physicians. The medical culture is a fascinating entity.  The statistics should be an impetus for change.  And those of us in the system need to be part of that change.

As I said, I don’t fully agree with the article, but it makes some good points. Med schools are making some changes to admission criteria, but I think education before applications are in is key to making sure the right people apply and get in.  People need to really think before they make what turns into a life long commitment.  


9 thoughts on “A Resident’s response to “Think Medical School Is For You? You’re Probably Wrong.”

  1. The experience is often dehumanizing – but it leaves me with the realization that much of society is dehumanizing, and I am wondering – why do we tolerate this?

    • You pose an interesting question… Society can be dehumanizing. But at the same time, it is those moments of beauty in life that make it all worthwhile.

  2. Pingback: Lies They Tell You About Medicine | Whispers of a Barefoot Medical Student

  3. At the smallish Canadian medical school I attended I think I can honestly say that while there were a few perfectionists pursuing “money, security, prestige”… the vast majority of my classmates and now colleagues were pursuing medicine for at least partly the “right” reasons.

    I have been blessed to work alongside people who love what they do, work hard and play even harder. There are times when we all struggle. I have personally paid the incredibly high price of having my own underlying mental illness exacerbated by pursuing medicine.

    Many days I wish for a chance to go back and do something else..

    But to answer SteveofCaley… we tolerate this for the moments when a tiny human wraps themselves lovingly around your pant leg, or a parent tells you “he’s never let anyone before you examine him” about their severely autistic child as you easily palpate his abdomen and listen to his heart, or like just last week you run a code on a baby who is asystolic for 15 minutes and after multiple doses of epinephrine, fluids, atropine, compressions, basically the whole nine yards – you get him back (and his subsequent cranial imaging is normal)!!!!

    • There were a few of those perfectionists in my classmates as well, although like you said, the majority had the “right” reasons in mind. But, like you said, many people love what they do. And many of us struggle from time to time in different ways.

      I think it is okay to think about going back and doing something else from time to time. It keeps things in perspective. It is the moments, like you described that make it all worthwhile.

    • To do something worthwhile, and someone knows that – you are another just like me, you are human too – that is incomparable.
      I think of Mr. Perez, and Kayla, and many persons that I was there for. I do not think that Lamborghini or Ferrari or Lexus makes a car that can give such a thrill, or the Hamptons has a house that nice – there is nothing like it. To save in service is a thrill of honor – so few know what that means.

  4. I agree with some of her points, but I really didn’t like the tone of the piece. And there are definitely people in medical school who shouldn’t be there.

  5. That being said, most people don’t like not hearing “good job” and being at the bad end of interactions time and time again. I agree that this is the case in many internships and isn’t that different in medicine. Lots of jobs are thankless. I agree that this is part of life in that kind of position, but that doesn’t make it right in any field.
    Do not wait for justice to fall upon you; when it happens, it is rare.
    To be just yourself – while suffering injustice – is the right path.
    If all we are is just what we passively receive, what are we?
    O Divine Master,
    Grant that I may not so much seek
    To be consoled, as to console;
    To be understood, as to understand;
    To be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

    This is from the Franciscan prayer, and called Christianity. But it is only about the Right Path, which we all have before us.

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