It’s been a very long time since I made the decision to switch careers and study medicine. I still remember the day of that decision so clearly. It was a sunny Sunday morning in September, the kind with that newly warm air that signals winter is almost over. That wind that brings excitement and promise and a sense that everything is going to be okay. I sat up and proclaimed to my future husband that I was going to do medicine. I can’t remember his response. I just remember it striking me like a bell.
The lead up to that of course, was all the stuff of life, a job that I hated, a personality that didn’t fit with it, a less-than-straightforward childhood, a friend who suggested medicine. And at the time I found it so hard to quantify why I wanted to do it. It was medicine right? Who wouldn’t want to do it? Wasn’t it the pinnacle of everything? That noble field of saving lives that came with the added bonus of sounding impressive to everyone you met. And sure, I didn’t mind anatomy!
Oh medicine, if I knew then what I knew now. I’m not going to tell you I was naive and that I hate my job. I don’t hate my job. And everyone is naive when they enter anything. What I will tell you is that medicine took my innocence about people away. The world I lived in then is so different to the world I live in now and some days I would give anything to go back to that. Things happen to people that you didn’t know could happen to people. People do things to people that you didn’t know could be done. And you see things that you can never un-see, that change you forever. Those days of innocent hobbies and social lives are gone, replaced with long hours, and soul draining sights and stories.
In time it gets better, your soul gets less drained, the stories are carefully compartmentalised into what is in your control and what is not. But you get harder. You become the person who was insensitive toward you once upon a time, and not because you don’t care, but because you’ve simply seen so much horror, that your threshold for what truly hurts is way above everyone elses.
I wanted to help people. And to some extent I do. But in hindsight that wasn’t specific enough. Help people how? People need so much more from other people than a plaster of paris or a prescription for tablets. Would I have chosen a path that helped people be healthy and happy if I knew what I know now? Because a huge proportion of the hospital aren’t there because they want to be healthy and happy. Which population group do you help? Those that want to be helped or those that don’t?
If you’re thinking about why you want to do medicine, don’t go and ask doctors why they like their job. Ask them how medicine has changed them. See if you want that for you, and if you do, go for it.