Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Doctors, and why You, NEED to care about others.

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The first day of med school was one of the most exciting days of my life. Not only because I was following my dream, to live a life where I could help people, but because I'd be meeting so many others who wanted to do the exact same thing. 

But as I got to know my classmates, I was surprised. I mean all of them really did care. ALL of them were passionate, all of them, at some level, wanted to make a difference and help people. That was apparent to me after only a few days.

But I've noticed over the years, as I've met more and more med students and junior doctors, as I've watched friends progress further down the path of becoming a doctor, that they lose that passion over time.

I'm not sure if it's cause of all the science and learning they gotta do, if it's the fact that they're at the bottom of the heirachy and feeling ignored or insignificant, or if over time, they've become desensitized to it all but for some reason - they've lost the drive and the passion they originally had. It's as if they've lost their faith in their patients and the system. I can almost see them lose their confidence in their ability to make a real, meaningful difference as they see more and more suffering, get battered again and again with assessments and learn more and more about how big the problems in the world really are.

And that trend, it's true for all doctors. Today, 58% of us have lost our enthusiasm for medicine in the last 5 years, 87% of us have lower morale and 40 - 50% of us would choose to go down another career path if we could do it all again. We've got the highest rates of depression, the second highest rates of suicide, and the highest rates of alcohol abuse of any profession, despite us knowing better for the latter.

Being a doctor isn't as great as it's notched out to be, most of us would say if you asked us...

We hate our jobs.

But at the same time... we doctors, nurses, carers, we still have huge power to change people's lives.
I mean, the placebo effect is a very real thing that improves people's outcomes in disease so drastically, it has to be controlled for any experimental drug to be approved for use.
I know for me, it was my doctor's words, "that the good news is you're 17 and you have leukaemia", and his medical team's actions that got me to see that my 10-20% chance of living, was just that - a chance.
Our words, our actions, and our care makes a HUGE difference to people's lives.  

And you know what, it's not just that we should play a bigger part in our patient's lives, we have to. 

Because it's not just helping them, and improving their outcomes, their lives, but also ours.

And, as those remarkable figures and stats above made abundantly clear, that's something we NEED to do. Not just doctors, or nurses or anyone in healthcare, by the way, but all of us, no matter what our profession.  
Now, many of you may be thinking, I just don't have the time to go that extra mile to care for someone. 

"I don't have the time, the resources!"

"I don't get paid, or thanked enough for this shit!"

But first of all, in most cases, it's not an extra mile at all. 

I can personally tell you, the little things, telling someone their medications are on their way, holding their hand, nodding and actually listening as they're telling you how and why their treatment sucks, personally saying you're sorry for running behind schedule and will get to you soon, can make someone's shitty day in hospital. But even if it does take that "extra mile" of filling in a form for someone's work or insurance company explaining their circumstances and lack of productivity, walking down with them to a biopsy or sitting by them as they start a new therapy, or personally writing a letter to a medical board saying why that 17 year old patient should get to sit his medical board exams, you should do it.

In fact, you have to. 

Because chances are, you're not enjoying every day at the office. 
You are, or you will be wondering, "Why am I even doing this?" at some point in your career.
But when you do, if you can channel WHY you got into this in the first place... if you can go into work every day knowing, and relishing the chance to be that person who's responsible for someone not being scared as they're being rushed into surgery, or why someone's decided to keep going to therapy to kick the addiction that's holding them back from living well, or why someone's made the decision to keep going on in life - you'll stop seeing your job and measuring your life in shitty, thankless, 12 hour shifts and you'll start going into work, every day, excited, ready and thinking, 

"My very presence here could change someone's life..."
And that's HUGE.
Now so far, it seems I've been talking only about doctors. 

But this doesn't just apply to them. It applies to anyone working in healthcare, anyone in any other profession really. It doesn't matter if you're only studying, if you're coming up the ranks or if you're nearing the end of your career; anyone who's reading this can make their life meaningful by making their work, and their life mean something...

Because if you can relish the fact and go into work everyday thinking that you, as a teacher, can shape the future of your kids' lives, of an entire generation maybe, or that you, as an engineer, are designing systems that makes people's lives easier, or that you as a public servant, can ease the frustration of someone who's called 15 different departments, looking for the right person to talk to, you'll stop hating what you do for half the waking hours in your life, and you'll ENJOY doing it.

I'm not saying every part of life is gonna be motivating and inspiring, I mean, the week before exams, I, everyone really, spends half their time thinking, "Why the hell did I even sign up for this?!?"

There will be days, or tasks in the office that'll seem pointless, meaningless, mind-numbingly boring. There will be long weeks of seemingly constant preparation and study...
But if you apply this mentality, and look in the big picture; at how what you're learning will help you get to where you want in the future, at the fact that though some days are boring, there are those moments you get to help someone that make it all worthwhile - you'll do those things with at least half a smile on your face...

Hell - you may even learn to love those bits too.

And even if you think that what you're doing has no purpose, no value, no bearing on someone's life, then remember this question that Patch Adams, the world's first clown doctor, (one of Robbie Williams most famous roles was playing him in the movie, Patch Adams), put to me and a bunch of other medical students.

"Do you stop being a doctor when you leave the hospital?" 
Does your impact and ability to help others and change lives hang on what you're doing with your life?

Just a few small friendly chats, a few random kind gestures, a donation to an effective charity or a chat to an old friend or family member who you haven't seen in a while, can brighten someone's day.
Indeed, there are many stories of people out there on the verge of taking their life who decided not to just because a stranger smiled at them. I know a few times, while I was going through some dark times... a few kind gestures stopped me from doing so too...

But you don't need to change someone's life - just knowing you've made someone's day that much better will make your life much more meaningful.  

And these things don't have to be huge. You don't need to change your profession or give away all you've got to do it. It's easy. 

I remember one day, I was waiting in line at the checkout at my local groceries store. An elderly lady was bagging groceries, her arms lethargic, her expression utterly disinterested; her every action speaking volumes of her complete and utter boredom.
Her disgruntlement became more apparent as it came closer to my turn.
So when it was my turn, I pulled out this leafy, flowery, lettuce and held it out, saying "This is for you darling."

Her pent up frustration burst forth, in the form of open laughter, and she pointed at me, smiling, and said
"That just made my night!"

And you know what? Her smile made mine.   

Making the decision to live your life in a way where you also help others doesn't just lead to others feeling better. It'll make you life better too.
What better way is there of being happy yourself than making others happy?

That feeling of putting a smile on someone's face, unlike money, fame, power or women, can never be taken away from you. It can never seem hollow or worthless. It'll always stay will you and give your life purpose.

And you know what - you NEED to do it.


  1. I found your blog via orac
    I bet you're going to make an absolutely terrific doctor. Good on you!

  2. Great blog post - so much wisdom in one so young. You are truly inspiring - thank you :-)


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