While there is no way to choose our patients’ outcomes, we can certainly choose to be empathetic and compassionate regardless of their outcomes. Medicine without empathy and compassion is not medicine at all.
Whenever my friends or family ask, “How’s medical school?” I have a simple, scripted response … But this response relays a fraction of what medical school has been like.
A decision was at hand. Which trail would lead him where he wanted to go? The right or left? Both or neither? A simple choice. An impossible choice.
Empathy is a muscle you have to exercise just like any other. It is a choice. It’s something you have to study and practice and sometimes fail at and always try again.
I breathed in and out, in and out, in and out, trying to slow my heart rate. Countless hours of preparation had led to this day: the day when I would get the honor of donning the white coat that characterized the profession I was about to enter.
The most stressful part of the medical school application process for me was the last phase, when there was nothing I could do except wait to hear back. I feel most content when I know there are concrete actions I can take to influence an outcome I care about.
Imagine this: You’re trying to secure that bank loan to start your dream business and everything is working out just right, until the very last minute when you learn of a hard requirement that disqualifies you from securing your loan.
Congratulations, you’ve started medical school! The dream you have had since you were nine years old is finally coming to fruition. You’re going to be a doctor! Just … not in 2012, when you think you’re going to graduate. In 2018. I’ll get to that later.
Felt like war, those early years, / We fought a fight for all those years.
Law, medicine, and dentistry — these were the careers that I was constantly exposed to at home. With my father as a practicing lawyer for over 25 years, two of my siblings already qualified as doctors, and the third on course to completing his medical journey, most of my relatives and friends thought medicine or law would be my choice naturally.
“From now on,” our deans told us at orientation, “society will see you as a doctor. Sometimes you may not feel like one, but that is what you are becoming. This week marks the beginning of that transition, which will continue in the months and years to come.”
Dear medical students, I’m sorry. You had just finished two years of didactic learning and couldn’t wait to feel like a “real” doctor. You were finally starting your clerkships, that is, finally working with patients and getting deep in the trenches.