I spoke with a young woman recently who is working on her application to medical school. She had the same excitement and nervousness regarding the application process that I had when I began my journey into medicine. Unfortunately, I was disheartened to find out that she had spoken to many physicians who had tried to talk her out of going to medical school and pursuing her dream of becoming a physician.
I chuckled with her saying I had experienced the same thing. Unfortunately, she was even starting to question her desire to be a physician.
What happened to our field? Why are those of us in practice frequently found telling prospective students not to join our path and seek another one with better pay, better work-life balance, and more appreciation?
Are there frustrations with the health care system, insurance, and electronic health records? Yes.
Do we work long hours with minimal acknowledgment of our dedication? Yes.
Do our years of study and practice get dismissed for the more vaunted Dr. Google? Yes.
Do we sometimes forget why we even became a doctor? Yes.
Do we also have the privilege to help patients through some of the most exciting as well as difficult times in their lives? Yes.
I find it an honor to be a physician. Do I deal with all the above concerns mentioned? Yes.
However, when a patient says thank you for my support during a difficult diagnosis, or I see the tears of joy on the face of a new mom as I hand her her baby for the first time, I remember why I became a doctor. We as a profession must not forget the reasons we chose to pursue medicine. We all have stories that we so excitedly told during medical school and residency interviews saying why we should be chosen. Maybe we should write those stories down and bring them out every time we feel beaten down by the pressures of practice. Maybe we should think about those stories when a young man or woman approaches us about becoming a physician.
Do I have an answer for all the problems in medicine? No. However, I try to be present and speak up for us as physicians when it is needed. I implore my fellow physicians to join in the advocacy efforts to make change in the field of medicine such that we leave the field better than what we have encountered. Let’s make this a field that we would be happy to have young people join.
I choose to support and to help bring up the people who come after me. Try to remember the feeling you had the first time you put on a white coat or the first time someone called you doctor. I ask you to remember why you became a physician and try not to quash the dreams of those who want to join you. Otherwise, we may one day be wondering, who will be our future? Let’s not push those eager prospective medical students away. Rather, let’s guide them into the wonderful field of medicine, so that they too will understand the privilege of being called doctor.
Shanna Combs, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Fort Worth and a member of the TMA Leadership College Class of 2018.