I Didn’t Sign Up For This…
Many years ago, when I first considered pursuing a career in medicine, I thought long and hard before going down that road because I knew it would involve sacrifice. My dad was a surgeon, so, as much as any child can understand, I did. I understood the lifestyle of being called away, of working nights and weekends, of having healthcare decisions weigh on my mind. When I finally made the decision, I knew right away there were certain things I was signing up for. But medicine was my calling. I felt it what I was meant to do so whatever it took it was worth it.
I knew even then that I was signing up for a lot of nights studying instead of socializing or relaxing. I signed up for difficult classes and long nights. I signed up for volunteering in a hospital throughout college and stressing about grades and spending the summer studying for the MCAT. But I didn’t sign up for this.
When I got accepted to medical school I knew what I was signing up for. I willingly signed up for even more, even longer nights studying. I signed up for dissecting cadavers, high pressure tests, and losing touch with some of my best friends from college. I signed up for being at the hospital at 6 AM, losing 15 lbs during surgery rotation because I never had time to eat, and talking to friends on the phone to make sure they didn’t fall asleep driving home after a call shift. But I didn’t sign up for this.
When I entered Family Medicine Residency I signed up for moving halfway across the country (Kansas!). I signed up for working 80+ hour weeks, 30 hour shifts, and not sleeping in my own bed. I pushed my boundaries for what I felt comfortable doing: I worked as the solo physician in a small-town ER for 60-hour shifts so that those doctors can recharge. I signed up for spending my birthday on call and making an average of about $4 an hour. I am a good re-framer: I was on obstetrical call one birthday and felt blessed that I could welcome newborns to share my birthday. I signed up for stressed out patients and the responsibility of their health in my hands. But I didn’t sign up for this.
I followed my husband to rural Indiana while he completed his specialized medical training. I got a job teaching at the local medical school’s rural training site for family medicine and realized my love of academic medicine, for welcoming the new physician into my field. I put off having our first child until we had a more reasonable work schedule. But I didn’t sign up for this.
I didn’t sign up for spending more time with my computer than with my patients. I didn’t sign up for insurance companies dictating what tests and medications my patient can and cannot receive. I sure as hell didn’t sign up for a government official who doesn’t know a stethoscope from a horoscope telling me how often my patient needs to be in the hospital or cutting my reimbursement because someone was angry I didn’t refill their narcotic prescription early. I didn’t sign up for being told I’m not allowed to use the appropriate personal protective equipment in order to keep my immunocompromised patients, my colleagues, and myself safe because there’s not enough to go around.
I educate the new residents about how to become more efficient, how to work within the current cumbersome system. I encourage them to feel joy in everyday and to appreciate small accomplishments. I don’t want the next generation of physicians to throw in the towel, to not care for patients.
I knew what I was signing up for. I didn’t sign up for this.