I was 6 years old when adults started to ask, ‘what you want to be when you grow up?’ Many physicians, including myself, replied – a doctor.
Many children faced with this question will change their answer as they grow older. For me and others like myself, our answers never changed. Medicine is and always has been my calling. There’s a sense of pride in caring for others – taking humanistic repair in the direst of times and giving gravity to an extraordinary outcome.
And while many of us on this National Doctors Day are taking pride in how far we have come, there are also those who are trying to look back and remember why we chose this path.
We have all heard the positive reinforcements. "Your family must be so proud that you’re a physician" or “it must be nice enjoying all of your hard work!”
However, it’s the dehumanization of medicine that sometimes makes us question these ideals the most.
It’s the subtle reminders when people question the amount of sleep we get or the 10+ years of commitment we made during our formative years that we can’t get back. It’s the annoyance of a patient who challenges our trained clinical judgement only backed by reading snippets in a sea of Google searches that lead their minds from a minor cut to incurable cancer.
To give you perspective of where I’m coming from, I’m over 13 years deep in my training to be a physician. After graduating from undergrad, I got my Masters in Biomedics while working on national political campaigns; I went to medical school, and then completed a healthcare and management fellowship while also working towards my MBA. I finished my residency in emergency medicine and landed myself back home in Florida. I’m a son, a brother, an uncle, I have a new fiancée, I’m one of 25-cousins on my father’s side, a kickball player, a lover of food and fashion – and I happen to also be a physician.
The move back home was because I yearned for a true sense of belonging that I had somehow lost during the decade of training I had committed to becoming a doctor.
It was during medical school that I was struck with that realization. My 6-year-old self’s goal to become a doctor was then and there – and I was actively living that dream. But as I’m sure many can relate, at times I felt like I was becoming a physician, however I was losing myself.
We physicians are people, too.
Our society has yet to decide what it wants its doctors to be. At one point in time, historical data showed that physicians were seen as almost a God or hero-like character defined by focused and direct-minded devotion, sacrifice, and self-motivated martyrdom to embody their craft.
But over the decades society’s perception of doctors has moved away from this, as mass media portrays a dramatically different world of television physicians who most of us actual physicians cannot relate to. An array from the seemingly infallible George Clooney on “ER” to the heartache and dramatic passion of the recent show “The Resident.”
Physicians are held to a higher standard of skill and expertise than most professions - and rightly so, as one wrong decision can be the difference between life and death. But as physicians are held to an ever-rising degree of perfection that is belied by media portrayals of what a doctor should be, these unattainable expectations erode our basic humanity.
Society wants physicians to be perfect. Society wants us to know all the answers and to never say the wrong thing. And before anything else, we should always be there for patients. Society wants a perfect person during their most imperfect of times.
The fact is, we’re not perfect. We are not above mortality and morality. Due to the nature of our work, it’s difficult to not bring the emotions of our work home with us at the end of the day. With our schedules frequently packed with 16 hour workdays and attempting to do charts on the weekend, we see our work interfering with our home life. These facts give me pause when I hear that positive reinforcement, "your family must be so proud that you’re a physician.”
Doctors are people too. We really are.
We have family members that get sick, we suffer from depression at rates higher than other professions, we long for meaningful relationships, and our children and friends have lives that we wish we could attend to.
When we try to be perfect but second-guess our decisions, we take that home with us. Our patients are on our minds as we drive home and eat dinner, and they keep us up late at night worrying. That’s the reality. So many of us don't detach because deep within we still have our mantra of why we went to medicine in the first place – that we are intensely human, and we deeply care.
In the most perfect world, we are imperfect people. And you know, that's okay.
I continue to love the practice of medicine. I continue to love caring for my patients. It's my passion and my vocation. It is my professional calling in this world.
So here’s to all the family functions you have missed, to the nights you saw your best friend’s birthday unfold on Instagram because you had to work, study, or do patient notes, and to all the times you felt upset for being imperfect in a patient's care. It’s what we trained for and it’s what we love.
On this National Doctors Day – here’s to being a doctor, and being a human, too!
National Doctor’s Day Quick Facts
● March 30th is the date that anesthesiologist Dr. Crawford W. Long first used diethyl ether as a surgical anesthetic in 1842.
● In 1933, Eudora Brown Almond wanted to create a day to recognize the hard work of her husband, Dr. Charles B. Almond, and his physician colleagues.
● In 1935 Doctor’s Day was first recommended by the Southern Medical Association Auxiliary and endorsing the 1933 resolution.
● The resolution read, “Whereas, the Auxiliary to the Barrow County Medical Society wishes to pay lasting tribute to her Doctors, therefore, be it resolved by the Auxiliary to the Barrow County Medical Society, that March 30, the day that famous Georgian Dr. Crawford W. Long first used ether anesthesia in surgery, be adopted as ‘Doctors’ Day,’ the object to be the well-being and honor of the profession, its observance demanding some act of kindness, gift or tribute in remembrance of the Doctors.”
● The custom spread and in 1958 the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolve recognizing Doctors’ Day.
● Congress re considered the issue in 1990 and passed the House of Representatives on October 16, 1990 and President George H.W. Bush signed into Public Law on October 30, 1990 “National Doctors Day.”
About the author:
Rajiv Bahl, MD, MBA, MS is an emergency medicine physician in Central Florida. He completed his training in Georgia and Ohio and has spent time working on political campaigns on a national platform. Currently, he is a FCEP Leadership Academy Candidate and freelance writer for outlets such as HealthLine and ABC News. You can find him on Instagram and his website www.RajivBahlMD.com