National Women Physicians Day: The Demands Of Medicine

In the weeks leading up to 2017 National Women Physicians Day we have invited women in medicine, as well as their family and peers, to share their white coat stories with us.

We would like to thank everyone who sent in a white coat story this week. After reviewing a number of wonderful submissions, our judges have selected Dr. Kim Alumbaugh as the Week Three Winner of our White Coat Contest.

When someone asks should I be a doctor, I usually begin with this one question:  are you called to do so? Because if you are not called you need to seriously consider the gravity of this choice before you go a step further. If you are called, there is no need to ask me because you already know in your heart that you could make more money elsewhere doing a less difficult job but you know you are not going to do that because… you are called. Once you recognize that you have been given the gift of the desire to heal, there is no option for you but to pursue this path, amass a huge body of knowledge, and develop the grit to lead the life.

Medicine might deprive of you of many of the usual milestones that you may now consider essential to being a woman. It will at first demand that study and learning take precedence over social life and friends. It will never allow you to submit to fatigue but always demand that you push through on behalf of an exam or a patient responsibility. Forget looking your best as it can often sadly be defined as simply getting time to shower. Your precious time at the gym is often eclipsed by tests and tasks that seem never to be finished and patient needs that seem never to be met. And if you should desire to marry, medicine demands that it must be to someone who understands these constant demands on your time and has enough autonomy to stay happy during the long hours you are absent—even and especially during your supposed ‘free’ time together.

Medicine demands so very much. It demands that you recognize the pain of others but remain unaffected by it in order to provide your patient the strength of your intellect. You must learn to lead people away from the easy thing to do into the more difficult and correct thing to do. At the operating room door, it isn’t easy to silence the whispering voice of a patient’s future hopes and dreams as you steel yourself to cut their bodies to remove their tumor, especially knowing their children and grandchildren are prayerfully awaiting the expected excellence of your efforts. You live with the knowledge that sometimes your results are determined more by luck than by talent. It isn’t easy to tell a new mom that you have discovered her baby has a life altering birth defect and continue to give her hope to undertake the difficult journey ahead.

Bad news is always difficult to give, and each bad outcome will haunt you for your entire life.

Honest mistakes you may make, like being slow to a diagnosis, will haunt you as well. Even if you are lucky enough to practice perfection in your care and your effort, there are far too many times when you will be able to do absolutely nothing to provide a cure or alleviate your patient’s suffering. Amazingly, you will learn to love your patients through their pain, and in return they will come to love you for all you have offered them and they will forgive you all that you could not. Your patients are an ever present reminder of your humanity and of your imperfection.

The thing is, in medicine you must be perfect, yet know completely that you are not. You must always demand perfection of yourself and others around you, yet simultaneously know this is impossible but by Grace. And, if you are committed to this calling, you may be lucky enough to receive that Grace, perhaps because of the diligence of your efforts and the growth of your intellect, or simply because so many people have sent up prayers on your behalf that the Almighty has permitted you to function as a safe conduit for his or her power.

All in all, medicine is the best worst career to have, with the highest highs and lowest lows. A lifetime of service teaches you many lessons and will question your commitment constantly. Medicine is joyous and beautiful and exciting and creative, powerful and demanding, personally fulfilling and sometimes economically fantastic, but these are not why you become a doctor. You become a doctor because you are called. I hope you will feel called always and proudly join our ranks

About the author:

Kim Alumbaugh began practice as an OBG in Kentucky in 1990. The last few years, following a family move to Texas, she has been a full time wife and mom of four grown up kids as well as a medical consultant. Her time away from full-time patient care confirms what she has long suspected;  although motherhood is the best-hardest job, being allowed to care for patients is a special gift that gives back way more than it takes!