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Answering a Tough Question

“Why did you want to become a doctor?”

I hate that question. It makes me cringe every time I hear it.

Honestly, I went into medicine because my parents wanted me to. But that answer sounds mildly insufficient, so I feel obliged to give my customary “I love science and I want to help people” reply.

And 80 percent of that answer is sincere. I really do like the science and art of medicine, and it is human nature to want to help others.

But the remaining 20 percent void makes my answer feel hollow and leaves me questioning: why do I want to become a physician?

There are moments of clarity. Like when I observed my first surgery. Or when we visited an internist at an Akron hospital and watched the familial bond between physician and patient manifest into tears. Or when I read stories like “The Good Doctor.”

These lucid moments temporarily provide reassurance that I am in fact doing something that I love.

But between these momentary crescendos of self-certainty, daily routine seems to shroud things. It’s like using a microscope: sometimes I get so caught up in the minutia of my slide that I forget to scale back and see the bigger picture.

But one particular line in “The Good Doctor” delineates one of the central reasons that I want to become a physician: my “involuntary proximity to human pain.” These five words encapsulate the ethos of a physician’s dual role as a healer and listener and remind me of the often forgotten rewards of being a doctor.

Being able to be so physically and mentally close to the mind and body during time of affliction gives physicians unparalleled access to the human condition. For 99 percent of our lives, we are caught up in daily motions, the everyday ups and downs, the monotony of routine. We seem to be gliding along the surface without pausing to take a deeper look.

We fail to be aware of ourselves.

In times of sickness, however, we are compelled to stop and peel back the layers of our existence to its very core. We are faced with the fragility of our being and the indefinite nature of our presence. The disruption in routine allows us to forgot about the of our daily lives, and take a look at the grand scheme. Modern day does not really license most of us time to dwell on existential themes, and so we keep gliding forward with an obscured lens. However, a physician is allowed this time. A physician has the license to listen. We are allowed to hear our patient’s stories and learn through their suffering. We are permitted to vicariously experience their situations and share their burdens. The visceral nature of our job allows us to be in touch with the crux of our lives — our mere existence. It is like with our white coats, we were given a lens that allows us to see life clear of trivialities.

I guess I disliked the question of why I went into medicine is because the answer is so laden with heavy, existential themes, and like most people, I did not have the time to really think deep enough to give a complete response. As I continue school and training, hopefully I will learn to be more cognizant of myself, my patients, and the bigger picture.

Haikoo Shah Haikoo Shah (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Northeast Ohio Medical University

A first-year medical student interested in discourse about the humanities and economics that fuel today's medicine. When I'm not having such lofty conversation, I like to sit around with my friends and/or eat Royal Dansk® cookies.