During a lesson in my third year of medical school in Italy a professor told us “as doctors, you won’t be able to have hobbies, you will have to study all the time.” I remember how I marked him off as an exaggerating Italian who thought too highly of himself and his profession. Recently however, I came to realize that perhaps he wasn’t the only one in the medical profession to share this opinion.
Since my plan is to practice medicine in the U.S, I had to take the USMLE step 1 exam just two days ago. I studied for four whole months. Towards the date of the exam I stopped cooking food for myself because I was too stressed out. I reduced my runs and gym sessions to a minimum, completely changed my schedule from yoga at 6:00 am to solving online questions at 1:00 am and stopped attending some excellent lectures at Yale University. So yes, now I know that collagen is composed mainly of proline and glycine, and that the symptoms of Kartagener’s syndrome include situs inversus, but in the process of memorizing those soon-to-be-forgotten facts I missed my girlfriend’s 30th birthday. I couldn’t be with my brother (and best friend) who was having a nervous breakdown after breaking up with his fiancee. Even now, after the exam, I can’t relax and enjoy life because I worry that I failed and probably ruined any opportunity for a future career in the states.
It seems that, worldwide, the medical profession is considered to be, and even worse- expected to be, the most noble and tough profession. If you are a medical student, whether in Taiwan, USA, Italy or Israel, you are expected to be smart, serious, hard working and always always stressed out and overwhelmed with classes and clinical work. Why is that? Why, if studying medicine is like drinking out of a fire hose, are medical students expected to work all the time, be always busy and memorize lists upon lists of differentials by the right order of frequency?
Lately, there are increasing complaints regarding the inhumanity of physicians, their lack of sympathy and compassion, but can one really blame them? The medical student is expected to spend hundreds of hours studying diseases he will never encounter, so he remains with very few hours to read a simple book, relax and just enjoy life for a little while. He is trained to be efficient, rational, and is measured mainly according to his dry textbook-knowledge, but no one teaches him how to be a better human being, a happier one.
It seems that only when a medical student finishes his residency, he allows himself to stop and think about himself and his life (maybe). What if it’s not good enough for me? What if I don’t want to suspend my life and the life of my future family just so I can practice medicine? What if I am approaching the limit of the extent to which I am ready to sacrifice everything else in my life? Does that mean I shouldn’t be a doctor? Does that mean I could never be a good doctor? I don’t know, and I don’t have the time to think about it - neurology begins in three weeks…
Author: Zohar Lederman