Medicine: An Extraordinary Calling

Medicine is a calling

Medicine is a calling.

By the time I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted for an eventual career, but I knew with certainty that I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer.  Who wants to go to school that long? 

As a freshman in college, I had plans to apply to the business program to pursue a degree in marketing.  In the spring of that year, I spent spring break with my family on a medical missions trip to Juarez, Mexico.  I went as a translator to get some “field experience” speaking Spanish, with no plans beyond the application of my language skills. 

We partnered with the Christian Medical and Dental Association at U.T. Southwestern Medical School, setting up free clinics in churches across the border, ministering to physical as well as spiritual needs of the community. 

The poverty there was breathtaking.  We had dozens of people come to the clinics, having walked miles with no shoes to come see us.

Our treatment capabilities were unfortunately limited to some analgesics, antibiotics, and assorted treatments mostly for acute maladies.  My most amazing experience was with an elderly woman who had walked about four miles to see us.  Her fingers and toes were severely deformed from rheumatoid arthritis, and she was obviously in daily pain. 

Medicine is a calling that I didn’t see coming

I translated the encounter between the physicians and the patient, and we eventually concluded that while there wasn’t much we could do in the long term without surgery (which she couldn’t possibly afford), we could at least offer her some ibuprofen and acetaminophen to try to help with her pain. 

We’d had to ration our medications so they would last the full week at the clinic, so I think we only gave her about 30 tablets.  She broke down crying and hugged everyone with genuine gratitude towards what she saw as incredible generosity.  She asked to pray for our team, and I translated the prayer for her.  I don’t think there was a dry eye among us after that. 

It was at that moment that I first felt God nudging me towards medicine as a career.  During the remainder of the week, the nudging became stronger and louder, and by the end of the week I was certain that medicine was my calling. 

After I returned from spring break, I went to my advisor and changed my major to Biomedical Sciences.  I crammed the entire pre-med curriculum (90 hours) into the next two and a half years, and I never looked back. 

It’s 14 years later, and I still wake up every day excited about the opportunity to care for my patients.  It can be hard to maintain the idealism I originally felt, especially being surrounded by the pervasive victim mentality that so many people in my profession have adopted. 

Medicine is a calling and idealism is still part of my DNA.

I have no intention of ever losing the joy that I felt with that first encounter so long ago.

It sometimes amazes me to hear the despair with which people talk about their profession.  I’ve seen Facebook posts asking, “Would you recommend the medical profession to your children?” in which dozens or even hundreds of people respond with an emphatic “NO!” 

How is it possible that we spend 10-15 years of our lives training for a career that we ultimately wouldn’t recommend to anyone else?  What gets physicians to that point?  Is it the administrative hassles and oppressive regulatory burdens?  Is it the decade of education we have to undergo before we get a “real job?”  Maybe it’s the crushing yolk of student loan debt  plaguing so many physicians for 10 or even 20 years after graduating from medical school? 

Whatever the reason, I contend that it’s irrelevant.  Medicine is at its core an extraordinary calling, and I believe that it is still one of the most exciting, noble, and impacting careers one can pursue.  I choose to continue loving it. It’s exciting for me every day.  I choose to enjoy my chosen profession. 

I choose.

There are plenty of downsides to pursuing this career path.  The training period is a long time.  I was in school/training for 14 years before I started independently practicing gastroenterology.  Some subspecialties take even longer to finish training. 

The huge student loan burden  most people face, coupled with the 10+ year delay in making a decent income puts physicians and other health care professionals way behind their peer group in terms of  building wealth and making progress towards financial independence. 

In short, it’s not worth it for the money alone.  If you do this job for the money, there’s no way you’ll ever make enough to be happy.  The money can’t ever make up for a lack of enthusiasm  for the work itself. 

I continue to be idealistic about practicing medicine.  I simply refuse to kowtow to prevailing attitudes of misery, entitlement, despair, and hopelessness.  That’s because I love caring for people.  I still enjoy hearing stories from my patients about how they’re doing, and I enjoy getting to hold their hand through the difficult times.  I cherish the opportunity to comfort and care for them and their families through the final days of their lives.  How many people get to do that for a living? 

Not many. 

I hope we as health care professionals never forget the extraordinary calling that is the medical profession.  May we never lose that sense of responsibility and joy that first called us to the field. 

Further Reading

Leave a comment below and tell us one thing that you love about medicine.  What could you say to encourage a fellow health care professional who feels discouraged about their career and is doubting their desire to continue?

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