Archive for November, 2007

Why I Want To Be a Doctor

November 4, 2007

This is another one from the old vault.

Why I Want To Be a Doctor, Posted November 4, 2007

Perhaps this entry is coming about a year or so too late; after all, I am in medical school now.  But back in those pre-med days it was all about the hypothetical.  Now I’ve gotten to experience some of it, and I can finally speak to some of my motivations for becoming a doctor in a concrete sense, without being forced to extrapolate my reasons for making this effort.

The best way to explain this might be with a small scenario I watched play out at a clinic I volunteered at last weekend.  At this particular clinic, one often sees sex workers, drug users and the like, and this particular patient had gotten an enormous abscess from using a needle that was not sterile.  An abscess is basically a huge pimple under your skin; it is the result of some infection, and over time if it is not treated you find yourself with a compartment under your skin filled with pus, blood and general unpleasantness.  The way one deals with this is first to numb the area, lance (puncture) the abscess, and drain the fluid out.

Being about the most junior medical student at the clinic that day, I got to watch as the second year medical student, under the supervision of our preceptor, prepared to cut open the abscess with a scalpel.  I’ve sat here and tried to do my best to recreate the scene in prose, but I think the situation is best described by a small poem I wrote shortly after watching the scene (please forgive my sad, limping poetic abilities, but it was better than anything else I could come up with).  For want of a better title, I think “The Student” will suffice.

A sterile field, gloves and face shield on,
The student prepares to lance an abscess.
She’s never done this before and she’s nervous,
But this is medicine; you must learn some things by doing.
Her face is collected and composed,
But behind her eyes she is awash in trepidation.
The doctor yields to the student,
And she comes forward and looks to her task.
She takes the syringe and touches it to the patient’s skin,
But her hands betray her composed exterior;
They tremble.

Hopefully that communicates my thoughts better than plain writing.  I suppose that the real moral of the story is that this was an incredibly human moment that I got to observe.  They told us in one of our inspirational, “welcome to medical school” lectures that as physicians we will gain “a unique view into the human condition.”  I have gotten the impression that in some of my most memorable experiences with medicine, this has truly come to pass.

I want to be a doctor because it means that I will get to feel.  These feelings may not always be happy or sad, but the one thing I feel I can count on is that they will be intense.  As a doctor, I think you are privy to some of life’s greatest triumphs and tragedies.  And more than simply observe this drama, you get to participate.  Already, I feel like so much has happened.  I’d never seen a mastectomy before Tuesday, but after shadowing an oncologist that morning, I had seen and felt at least a dozen, and got to speak to the brave women who live with them.  I got to see the courage of these people who have sacrificed a very physical piece of themselves to cancer, while still living under the constant fear of a fresh relapse.  And on a much smaller, but perhaps more personal level, I got to see the strength of that second year medical student as she tried to master her apprehension and go forward with her task.

Here I have done pelvic exams, prostate exams, successfully drawn blood, and have spoken with people who knew they were going to die.  Not all of these things are happy things, but they have all been profound, and that is why I want to be a doctor.  This is all something of an adventure, where I get to learn about the world around me, as well as myself.  I don’t know how I will react when someday I will find myself standing over a real human being with a scalpel in my hand, or when I am trying to resuscitate a patient who may or may not die under my treatment, but I do know that I will get to do these things.  And that, I feel, really makes this line of work particularly interesting.