Our elder daughter is in Year Twelve, approaching the final half of her last year of school. Consequently, there’s been much discussion about careers and universities around our dinner table. She’s considering Medicine, which is not so strange given both of her parents are doctors (I no longer practise).
Her father and I thought we should fill her in on a few things, make sure she knew what she might be taking on. People have high expectations of doctors these days, so we sat her down and told her the following…
Doctors are expected to:
1. Never make a mistake.
2. Make an instant diagnosis if someone collapses or bleeds or arrests and act the following instant. And not make a mistake.
3. Possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of every disease and be able to recall it instantly.
4. Be able to communicate with everyone from everywhere.
5. Not show annoyance at the rambling patient. Nor cut them short.
6. Not run late.
7. Listen to a patient describe how they were scratched by a rusty nail that was sticking out of the board they’d been meaning to fix because they knew someone would scratch themselves on it some day, and how it must be a good fifteen years since their last tetanus injection, because they remember the day—it was Ned’s funeral, and Ned died in the July, or was it the August, of ’97, or was it ’98 …
8. Still not run late.
9. Listen to the rusty nail/tetanus story and give the patient a tetanus shot and get them to the door, with their hand on the doorknob, when they turn and say, Oh, by the way, I’ve been getting these chest pains on and off for a while now…
10. Still not run late.
11. Examine the patient while they’re still talking and pick up barely audible heart murmurs and breath sounds.
12. Complete about 300 forms a day.
13. Fix the patient’s problem without pain, and preferably with a pill and not asking the patient to change their lifestyle.
14. Drop everything for the patient who calls at 4pm on Friday afternoon because they’ve finally decided to do something about the cough they’ve had for six weeks.
15. Know which little round white pill the patient is on.
16. Make an accurate diagnosis of someone’s distant relative at any given social function.
Miraculously, there are some doctors who manage to combine all of this into one seamless professional, but those SuperDocs are a very rare breed.
For balance, we thought we’d tell our daughter about the good stuff, too:
1. The joy of studying into the wee hours, filling your brain with encyclopaedic volumes of information about the human body and mind.
2. The challenge of piecing together a group of symptoms and signs, and making a diagnosis.
3. The satisfaction of making a tricky diagnosis and being able tell your patient, ‘I know what the problem is …’
4. Even better when you can add, ‘and I can help you’.
5. The way people trust you just because you’re a doctor. They trust you with their bodies and their secrets. They tell you things they’ve never told anyone else, things they’ve carried with them for decades. They trust you to help, advise and guide them. To be there at their most intimate and vulnerable moments.
6. The honour of witnessing a baby’s birth, the start of life. And, the greatest privilege of all, being there at its end.
I’m so grateful to have been a part of this profession for 26 years. It’s intellectually stimulating and rewarding in a way few other professions are. And it’s more than an honourable career—it’s a vocation. You know you’re helping people—sometimes helping to save their lives; other times, just by listening. It has its challenges, like everything, but it’s worth it.