My first rotation as a third-year medical student, I met a man who will forever influence the way I approach my patients. He had come to the hospital because of rectal bleeding and was ultimately diagnosed with colon cancer. As I got to know him, I learned that he had fought in two wars, started a successful business and was married for more than 50 years. And he was enormous, six-foot five-inches and 280 pounds, with a voice that reminded me of Lee Marshell — think Tony the Tiger and the guy who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
Vaccines have become a cornerstone of modern public health and have greatly reduced the burden of infectious disease across the globe. They are also the center of major debate in America. Conjuring furious arguments with divided opinion, where vaccine safety gets more attention than vaccine effectiveness. In the era of Facebook, Twitter and every imaginable social media outlet, opinions and facts flood computer screens, distorting truth and instilling doubt. To support an argument, it is not difficult to find an article or group that agrees with you. Medical professionals constantly find themselves concerned and restrained by an apathetic response to reason and science.
I am honored by this opportunity to offer you some advice on how to prepare for your professional career in what has become a treacherous health care system. I will not elaborate on why I think the health care system is “treacherous.” I will assume — and even hope — that you have at least some inkling that things are not rosy in the world of medicine.
As physicians-in-training, it is tempting to accept that we have no place to stand up to our colleagues or superiors. That we should just hold our tongues, keep our mouths shut, dodging confrontation like the plague. This is false. From the day you received that acceptance letter in the mail, you committed your life to protecting others. What was it uncle Ben said to Peter Parker? “With great power comes great responsibility.” At times, this might mean getting uncomfortable to do the right thing.
In case you were wondering: robots won’t replace anesthesiologists any time soon, regardless of what The Washington Post may have to say. There’s definitely a place for feedback and closed-loop technology applications in sedation and in general anesthesia, but for the foreseeable future we will still need humans. I’ve been practicing anesthesiology for 30 years now, in the operating rooms of major hospitals. Since 1999 I’ve worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a large tertiary care private hospital in Los Angeles. So what do I want to tell you, the next generation of physicians, about my field?
Physicians in-training are granted a privilege unparalleled in society. Human beings generously donate their bodies for our learning. They lay naked, exposed on cold stainless steel tables while strangers, who will never know their name, study them intimately. Like a grandfather telling stories to the next generation, their organs reveal to us a story of life.
My classmates and professors tell me I overthink it. “You overanalyzed the problem.” “Stop mulling it over.” “Just focus on the buzzwords and you’ll rock the exam.” “Jump through the hoops and move on.”
The nightmare begins like any other. At first, everything seems familiar. But slowly, you realize something is not right — something is out of place. Outside the window, clouds black as night gather, lurching forward like a hurricane. The thunder is so intense you feel the electricity pulsate through your chest. An impending doom consumes your emotions. The room seems to press in on you like some scene from “Alice in Wonderland.” Then the words creep in.
In the pursuit of dreams, we are taught to never lose sight of our goals. It is impossible to accomplish any meaningful ambition without a devotion to discipline and the acceptance personal sacrifice. This creates tunnel vision, which is ideal for reaching a destination, but burdensome for those close to you. It is easy to forget those who hold us up, push us forward and who at the end of the day just say, “I love you, no matter what.”