Choosing Medicine as a career

This is a very important question that you are asking.

The stock answer from any young person who is asked “Why Medicine?” is that they would like to relieve pain and suffering in people. Anything else sounds awkward, even if sincere. If the truth be told, the major attraction is the good standard of living that medical practise gives to its practitioners.

At the age of 18 or so, when you make this career choice, it’s virtually impossible for you to feel the emotions that Medicine can wring from you. As you get into the practice, the demands can get quite overwhelming. One of two things happens:

  • Most often, you numb yourself and keep going, hating yourself for the inability to appropriately respond to the emotional needs of patients—often their only real need.
  • Or, you can’t handle it any more and drop out of Medicine, or go into a sub specialty where you don’t have to deal directly with people.
  • To be fair, there are any number of doctors who genuinely care for their patients and go the distance for them. The trick is to feel the emotion but not get swallowed up by it. True empathy is a verb—action, not a noun—emotion.

The way we select young people for a career in Medicine makes no attempt to assess this emotional competence. The sole criterion is the ability to score highly on an absurdly difficult entrance exam. Little surprise then that the public sees doctors as cold-hearted, money grabbers.

Here’s my advice to any young person considering Medicine as a career.

  • If you think that a lifetime of listening to and watching people in pain and suffering is likely to be too much, then do something else with your life.
  • If you have the ability to feel other’s pain, and, without letting it get you down, do everything to help them, then that’s all you need for a medical career. Keep with it and you will be a terrific doctor.

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