The last couple of weeks at work have been busy in the run up to the company’s big biannual meeting with our shareholders, who are largely doctors themselves. It was a beautifully sunny day at a nice river-side venue, and there present were a mixture of GPs, GPSIs and specialist Consultants from a range of backgrounds.
The day kicked off with a case-based quiz about thyroid disease from endocrinologist Dr V. It was an unexpected kick-back to med school tutorials, and I was mortified to realise how much I seem to have forgotten… It didn’t help that my last rotation was Orthopaedics! The existence of things like sick euthyroid syndrome and postpartum thyroiditis seems to have escaped me somehow… My only comfort was that some of the doctors struggled too!
The other medical talk was an update on menopause from one of the gynaecologists, Dr K. Did you know that the number of hot flushes a women has is directly related to memory loss? Fascinating. It’s nice to be connected to the medical world in this way. I know it’s silly, but the idea of falling behind and being totally out of the loop in a few years troubles me. Is this what people who do a normal degree feel like? If they do a History degree and go into an unrelated career, do they worry about forgetting the dates of battles or the names of Kings? Does a Physics PhD who now works in web development ever get anxious that they might miss the latest developments at CERN? Perhaps. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a doctor thing.
I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet many of the company’s affiliated doctors before, so it was great to finally do so. As well as talking about medical life, we chatted about the external skills and interests. They seemed very impressed with my presentation about Digital Marketing and SEO, and some of them also had experience of that world themselves.
“I have my own website and I wish my Marketing manager understood Medicine! They just don’t get it!”
“My Marketing manager used to get annoyed with my lack of social media presence, and advised me to go on a Twitter course. I refused to go, but now I have more followers than she does and I tease her about sending her on that course now!”
“Well done on your presentation! What you’ve done is prove that doctors can pick up new skills very quickly if they put their minds to it!”
I met GP Dr A, who told me about all the different things he’d done over his career.
“Don’t go through life so focused on becoming an expert in something that you block out everything else. The successes I’ve had in my life haven’t happened because I’m an expert – they happened because I experimented, tasted different careers, learned about new concepts, and met different people. I’ve got further with a bit of knowledge and a lot of networking, than with a lot of knowledge and sitting in my office all day.”
I chatted to Dr S, another GP who like me, trained at Bristol.
“I think every doctor has moments in their career when they consider leaving, it’s just that some of us do something about it and some of us stick it out. I’m not sorry I stayed, because I’ve got to a place in my life now where it suits me and I can manage my career, but I can understand why you’ve made the leap.”
Later, I was with another group of doctors and we got onto the topic of the junior contract dispute, the Whatsapp message leak and the general state of affairs in the medical profession currently. Their perspective was interesting.
One of the doctors had a patient, who apparently had never worked a day in their lives, and had condemned the junior doctors for ‘complaining’ about their working conditions and dismissed the issue by saying ‘isn’t it what they signed up for?’
Obviously this statement annoyed all of us, and the reaction to this from the doctors was this: to get into medical school you have to be a lot of things- bright, hard-working, talented, tenacious, caring, energetic – and if they really wanted to make a lot of money and buy fancy cars or big houses, those students could go into business or finance. They could put in the same long hours a doctor puts in, and deal with similar levels of stress, but get paid a whole lot more for it, and probably experience more of life through travel and networking opportunities. They would quite likely be treated better too, with basics like food and drink provided if they work late.
So why don’t they do that? Why don’t they drop everything and become investment bankers? Well, it’s because they care. They want to make a difference in life. They want to help people.
OK, so some people *asians like me* do it to please their parents, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying I certainly wouldn’t have done it if that was the only reason. Even before I considered medical school, I appreciated and approved of the idea of doing something with my life that could ultimately make someone else’s life better. Whatever the influences around me at the time, I would not have studied medicine if I had not believed that it was fundamentally a fantastic thing to do.
So isn’t is paradoxical that our society ultimately punishes the people who chose to be selfless? Is that not something we should be proud of? Something we should reward? The saddest thing is, that reward wouldn’t need to be financial. What would best serve the caring is making it possible for them to continue their mission – in short, to give them the kindness, compassion and respect that they want so much to give to others.