Remembering why we chose a career in medicine can perhaps bolster our sense of well-being and mitigate burnout.
The dream of becoming a physician danced in my head throughout childhood. However, it competed with ideas of becoming a pastry chef, film editor, scientist, journalist, and veterinarian. Everything changed during a pre-med program the summer before my senior year of high school at my local med school. I interviewed and diagnosed patients at the hospital, talked with residents and attendings, and worked alongside a team of fellow high school students. The precise moment when I decided to become a physician remains as clear as day. In an anatomy lab, a human heart was passed around. I looked down with reverance at the organ of tremendous power and elegance cradled in my palms. My eyes filled with tears at its beauty and significance. At that moment, I knew that I had to become a doctor.
The heart of medicine
The heart of medicine is why I want to become a physician. Watching the green line’s stuttering rhythm on the PICU monitor as it traced the electrical pattern of a 15-year-old boy who had been in a car accident while his family held hands around his bed. Heart leaping as I observed a surgeon perform a fetal spinal surgery in utero. Jaw dropping in awe as I watched a woman’s exposed heart declare its steady beat in her chest during open-heart surgery. Eyes welling with tears at the sound of a fetal heartbeat’s fighting flutter. Clinging to an elderly woman’s hand during her last 72 hours of life as her pulse met mine through her paper-thin skin. Witnessing the heart-to-heart conversation of a physician telling a mother that it was time to consider withdrawing life support for her son.
While it was the anatomical heart that pulled me into medicine, it’s the metaphorical heart that made me stay. Studying the nuances of the doctor-patient relationship, advocating for the importance of listening to patients’ narratives, pondering questions of medical ethics, remembering to regard patients as people during the most vulnerable times of their lives, and conducting research on the science of compassion all confirm my choice of profession.
Medicine is a calling
Medicine is a calling. More than a job, it’s a vocation and a profession. It demands sacrifice, years of schooling, debt, and long hours. However, a true love for medicine and our patients makes all of this more than worth it a million times over. Reminding ourselves why we chose our field can help bolster our well-being and perhaps mitigate burnout.
“The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head.” -William Osler
We each have a moment, a story, or an encounter that first sparked our passion for medicine. Remember that story now during this challenging time, and hold it close as we continue to stand in solidarity as healthcare professionals and as a global community. Choose to respond to your calling each day.