One question that I often ask myself amidst the chaos that is my life is: Is it worth it? During my time in the hospital I have had many doctors tell me that it isn’t. They say it’s too much work for not enough money, and it’s not what they envisioned when they went to medical school. The majority of each day is spent sitting in front of a computer screen reviewing labs, putting in orders, and dealing with red tape. They often only get five or ten minutes with their patients.
A classmate of mine was talking about it the other day, and she was disheartened by the fact that her patients will never know the sacrifices that she has made to be a physician. They won’t know about all the late nights studying and the “tears of insanity.” And I quite agree. Every day when I kiss my daughter goodbye and leave her at daycare to go to work where many patients will be annoyed with me and some will even get upset, I think, Why am I doing this?
But almost every day I meet a patient who really brings me joy. In only a few weeks at the hospital, I have had countless moments with patients that tell me it is worth it. I know that it is easy as a medical student. Most days I am only assigned to four patients, so I have a lot of extra time to spend with them. Sometimes I spend an hour just sitting and talking to a patient. They tell me their life story. They ask about my daughter. They laugh with me. They cry with me. And in that moment I remember exactly why I make the sacrifices I do.
It is so wonderful to walk into a patient’s room and have them smile just to see you. They ask how Anika is. And they tell me thank you for helping them feel better. I am always a little sad when it’s time to discharge them. I am so glad they are well enough to leave, but I know that it’s probably goodbye forever.
The other day I was sitting and talking with an elderly patient who was pretty sick herself, but she had received a call earlier that day with news that a good friend’s cancer had come back. I told her I was so sorry to hear that, and I would keep her friend in my prayers. She immediately started crying and said, “Thank you. That’s the best thing you could have said.” I’m just a student. I didn’t know all the answers about how to care for her or how to treat her problems, but if a few kinds words could brighten her day, it makes it all worth it.
There are days where I feel exhausted beyond belief. There are ungrateful patients who don’t want to speak to “the medical student.” There are nurses who question your presence in their patient’s room and who get mad when you ask them for help. But the good far outweighs the bad. For every mean nurse there are a dozen nice ones. For every ungrateful patient, there is a patient who is ready to name her granddaughter after you. And for every doctor who says they wouldn’t do it again, there is one who swears he couldn’t do anything else. I know I am one of the latter.
Medicine is all I have ever wanted to do. I’m not naive about the struggles doctors face today. There is much more red tape than there used to be. There is more paperwork and less time with patients. But at the end of the day, there will always be doctors and there will always be patients, and the ability to heal another person will always be at the heart of medicine.