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, 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 cut short the rambling patient.
6. Not show annoyance at the rambling patient.
7. Not run late.
8. Listen to the patient describe how they were scratched by the 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 …
9. Still not run late.Listen to the rusty nail/tetanus story and give them their tetanus shot, and get the patient 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. And still not run late.
11. Sift and analyse all the information the patient gives them, while the patient talks.
12. Examine the patient while they’re still talking.
13. Hear barely audible heart murmurs and breath sounds while the patient is still talking.
14. Complete forms and read letters while the patient is still talking.
15. Fix the patient’s problem without pain and preferably with a pill.
16. Definitely not by asking the patient to do something to help themselves, like give up smoking or eat less.
17. 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.
18. Fill out 300 forms per day.
19. Know which little round white pill the patient is on.
20. Make an accurate diagnosis of someone’s distant relative at any given social function.
Miraculously, there are some doctors that 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 her 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’ to #3.
5. People trust you when you’re a doctor. Automatically, just because you’re a doctor.
6. People come to you for help, and advice and guidance. They trust you with their bodies, with their secrets. They tell you things they’ve never told anyone else, things they’ve carried with them for decades. They trust you at their most intimate and vulnerable moments.
7. There’s the thrill of seeing a baby born.
8. And the biggest honour of all: the privilege of caring for the dying.
I feel grateful to have been a part of this profession for a significant part of my life. It is an honourable career, intellectually rewarding and one where you know you are genuinely helping people — sometimes helping to save their lives; other times, helping just by listening. It’s challenging but worth it, and there would be few other professions like it.
By the way, I’d love to hear from any doctors who want to add to the lists above! Feel free to comment …