Remember when you were a kid and thought that your parents were infallible? Surely adults never get scared, or get sick. They can do anything. Because of course they can. Its stabilizing to think that someone is in control— if it can’t be you.
Faith Fitzgerald often remarks that she first became interested in medicine because as a little girl one of her friends mom’s got sick. “Mommies can’t get sick,” she said. The fact that adults are human and fall prey to very human things is something that is still difficult to understand.
I used to think the same thing about doctors. They are heroes. They are unendingly smart and all knowing and in control at all times. I watched shows like Boston Med and Hopkins with a cult like following. Doctors on that show say things like, “watch me give the gift of life via lung.” Even when they lose patients they still seem so sure of themselves— so very calm and replete in their actions. The role of doctor becomes them in a way that I don’t ever think it will me.
But that’s TV. Edited for the 1 hour time slot interspersed with clips of Dr. Oz running his mouth. Being in the hospital and watching real doctors do real doctor things has been amazing and eye opening— but it also made me realize that doctors are so very human.
We do ourselves a disservice by not acknowledging the humanity of physicians. Every year we lose an entire medical school class worth of physicians to suicide. It doesn’t pay to expect our doctors to be super human. That includes the expectation that mistakes will never be made. We just hope that it won’t be on the back of our loved ones.
We expect doctors to work long hours, to answer our questions, fill out copious paperwork, take a multitude of licensing exams and be warm and caring. Its a tall order for sure, but the unrealistic part comes when we expect doctors to hide their emotions about a case, or when we assume humanity is a sign of weakness in our colleagues.
Doctors are a very diverse group and exhibit all of the personalities that the rest of us mere mortals do. Some seem to have a chip on their shoulder, like the DO attending who probably always secretly feels inferior. Is that why you use so much scientific jargon? Some are painfully socially awkward— like the resident who still struggles to make conversation with other members of the team. Some feel like they aren’t as smart as everyone else, like the intern who consistently deflects questions by asking another question.
I see you.
I see you Doctor. I see your humanity shine through you in all its messy neurotic glory. It makes me feel like this is something I can do too. Being a doctor is not reserved for the best of us. Its for everyone who dares enter this changing and kind of screwed up profession. Its for those who never really thought they were as smart as everyone else. Its for those who still retain their middle school awkwardness. Its for those who are scared and wondering if they belong among the ranks of people who make it look so easy. Its for those who work hard and show up, even though it would be easier to do something else.
You are going to be a doctor. And you will be not above other people, but beside them. What a perfectly human place to be.