I have found myself in the rather unique position today of having some free time. Now I am someone who, admittedly, struggles with the concept of free time. You see I simply have to fill it – and if I don’t I tend to pace, let my thoughts, doubts and insecurities surface, and question it all. It sounds dramatic but amongst my jokes, I am actually quite a deep thinker I guess.
So what I thought I would do is try and summarise, while in the state of having free time and uninterrupted mind, what life is like now and how it has changed since I started work as a doctor.
I think perhaps before I do that I should let you know what others tell you – especially other doctors. They tell you to:
(i) forget having a social life
(ii) forget about having a relationship
(iii) forget about having hobbies
(iv) forget about having sleep
(v) forget about not letting your family and friends down
(vi) forget about enjoying the job and just get on with it
I have chosen to ignore their advice. Personally I think it is rubbish. The life that you lead is ultimately controlled by you. If those factors were to have become wholly true then I would have happily walked out of a career in medicine. Life is after all, precious, and what that would have done is remove all the facets to life that make it so rich, full of joy and exploration, and hope for the future. Those people that make statements baked in half negative rhetoric are people I have no time for. If you know me, then you will know, I don’t suffer fools lightly and will happily let them exit my life (with boot helping them on the way out!).
So what have I found? Well, I have found that yes medicine does leave me more tired, less able to get to every social event, and a little bit more wary about even bothering with a relationship. However, medicine has also given me a privilege. It has given me a privilege to be party to other people’s lives. Through this I have seen every single possible emotion (in even just the 7 months as a doctor) and encountered situations that before I would have most definitely questioned how I might react. Armed with this experience now I feel lucky: my own emotions are richer and more cemented and better understood with my new perspective; my appreciation for my family and friends that much greater for I have seen what it is like for others when they lose them; and I have a much better idea of what I want out of life.
So what do I mean by “what I want out of life?” Well, I mean I want to seek out happiness, fulfilment, purpose and enjoyment. Those facets shine a little bit brighter for me since becoming a doctor. I think, on reflection it is the perspective that I have been given. I am very grateful for this – despite some of the sacrifices that have to be made. Becoming a doctor has also helped me with my identity. I mean, yes, true, it is just a job but it is a job that requires me to do something and act that requires an extension of who I am. By that I mean when I talk to a patient or a family I am not just telling them what I have been told to tell them or delivered the bad news in the way that I was taught to in medical school – but I am doing it all weighted in my own emotion and empathy or sympathy for the person in front of me. As such I think it hard to separate the doctor, person and the job. And we are all probably aware that we see people who do it well and people who do it poorly. I just hope that I do it well and indeed continue to improve.
The bottom line is, people say that being a doctor takes its pound of flesh but I would argue that indeed for every pound it takes, it gives the doctor two pounds back as they learn continuously more about themselves through their privilege position in other people’s lives.
For now, I’ll take that happily.