Thursday, February 16, 2012

What The Hell Am I Doing?

As my husband and I try and make a long term financial plan for paying off my almost $200,000 in loans from medical school, I sit here wondering, why did I pay 200 grand so that I can get peed on, pooped on, bled on, screamed at and sworn at? I’ve delivered a baby without gloves on (it was an emergency).  I’ve been kicked so hard I almost fell off the bed.  In one hour this fall, two patients in our women’s emergency room looked me in the eye and screamed “F*&^ you!”  That occurred at 2 AM, probably on a Friday, after I spent all night running a busy emergency room rife with women with ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, wound infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer and all other varieties of disaster.  And I’m sure I often deserve a giant cursing out, you see I’m not always the most lovely human on the planet, but I can assure you that I did nothing but ask both those women simple questions that set them off. 

Why did I sacrifice my twenties, my weekends, holidays, and sleeping at night to take care of screaming, crying women? I didn’t have a bridal shower because I only had one weekend off in the six months before my wedding. My husband got off work early for Valentine’s Day and surprised me at home, so we could actually share the dinner that I was going to leave in the fridge for him before I had to run to the hospital.  I’m working at a job that pays less than medical school costs and without my husband couldn’t pay it back.  The interest rate alone is 6.8%, accruing thousands of dollars a month.  

The funny thing about all of the drawbacks to being a doctor is that I’ve never been happier.  Really.  Obviously I’m a little sick, but that’s ok.  I can’t remember a time that I’ve felt to be so proud of who I am and what I do, and I enjoy going to work almost everyday.  Even on the most horrible, body fluid filled, back straining day, I go home with a sense of satisfaction.   I’ve never been so determined to learn so that I can take good care of people. 

I don’t have to sit at a desk or sit in long meetings.  My office is the hospital floor, labor and delivery, clinic and the emergency room.  I’m on my feet.  I get to learn how to operate and perform all kinds of procedures.  I get to meet amazing people every day, and I get to work with all sorts from medical assistants, nurses, OR techs, medical students, other residents, fellows, attendings, patients and families.  I get to teach and learn at the same time.   I have an amazing group of peers going through the same thing that can find humor in just about anything. 

Taking care of patients, becoming an intimate part of their lives and their bodies, is a great honor.  And I exaggerate saying they all scream and cry.  Most, even though they have little and are often sick, are some of the most amazing women I have ever met, stoic and strong.  When a patient looks at me and says “thank you doctor”, at least for that moment I think I might be part of something good.

I recently got into a heated discussion with the anesthesia resident during a long surgery.  He told me that his dad, also an anesthesiologist, always wished he hadn’t gone into medicine.  This resident said that he wished he had gone into investment banking because one of his best friends already has six houses at age 32.  I told him that I loved being a resident and enjoyed taking care of patients, and that even though I have debt and might not be rich I live a very comfortable life.  He told me I would change my mind, especially once I have kids. 

I can understand why any parent who has gone through the gruel of medical training wouldn’t want their kid to endure that amount of stress.   But I can tell you for sure that I didn’t make a mistake getting peed on, pooped on, bled on, screamed at and sworn at.  There’s no better job for a science nerd and adrenaline junky.  Becoming a doctor isn’t the easiest way to get rich quick, but if my kid wants to go through all of the same pain I have, I’ll tell them to go ahead.


  1. I follow you on twitter and you regularly make me smile but I am going to post anonymously. I hope that is ok.

    I left med-school with the same thought.

    I went to a nice ivy league school and my friends left with degrees mostly in Finance, Law or IT. I sat and studied longer and longer into the night.

    While I got bled on, vomitted on, punched and kicked they sat in bars drinking my weekly food budget in champagne.

    They used to show up to get togethers with increasingly bigger cars and more and more vacuous girlfriends and then, as time passed wives.

    I still see them sometimes, less and less as time goes on because we have less and less in common. I have paid off my student loans and I earn a good living. I am never going to be a billionaire but I am ok with that. I look at my friends, they are haggard, the are tired, they are stressed... they question what they are doing and what they have done with their lives. I don't. I come home after every shift and know that I did something good today... How many professions offer you that sort of karmic reward?

    I have had high school kids come and ask me about being a doctor and I have always been up front with them. I always say to them "It is the hardest thing you will ever do but it is also the most rewarding. For every 1 time you question your life choices you will have the memory of 10 patients who grab your hand and say a simple thank you."

    Good luck with it all. It is the best ride you will ever go on!

  2. Thank you so much for this nice comment. Gives me hope to go on!

  3. Atta girl! Love ya tiger, Mom

  4. Love this post!
    - Wayne

  5. Love the post, and the first comment from Anon. It's tough to see the finish line of graduation approaching but know it's no finish line at all, just one chapter ending so that another may begin.


  6. I was thinking about this in the ER the other night... The patient next to me was a bipolar man with a lot of anger and just looking for someone to throw it at, and the young Jeremy-Lin-looking resident was tasked with dealing with him. The bipolar man launched a barrage of some of the most hateful things I've ever heard, and eventually the the doctor lost his cool. It made me pissed that such an amazing profession could be so thankless at times, but it doesn't surprise me. It's sensitive work, to be sure. Lord knows I've had some moments with doctors before. But stay strong, because it's the most important thing you can do, and the grass isn't much greener anywhere else! Besides, throw some ads up at the top and maybe you can retire to blog full-time :)

  7. I agree that being a physician is rewarding and allows one to have a special bond with patients, but facing the $200k loan debt is daunting. I sometimes wonder if it would be a better choice to become a Physician's Assistant or Nurse Practitioner instead. Less stress, less debt, and still make a decent living.
    Have you ever thought about that?

  8. @la I think that being an np or pa is a great choice. I really like operating though. Pas can assist but they're not the primary surgeon

  9. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I am currently awaiting the match results for this year and I will be entering OB. Ever so often I question by decision as people tell me on a daily basis that I have made a mistake in choosing our specialty. Though deep in my heart I know that I LOVE it. Thank you!

  10. You have choosen a career that will carry you to the top of the mountain. Believe in the best and it will be that for you. Women are intense and need to have an individual carring for them that are commited and all focused to their needs. Listen intently to your patients for you will learn from them the education of a lifetime. Always give your best and believe in what your doing is important. Best to you! I can tell you will be a good Doctor. OB RN.

  11. I briefly dated a business consultant who called me a "trashman" during medical school because I had chosen medicine, so there is a good argument to be made regarding the size of the debt and its interest rate.

    I am an anesthesia resident and unlike the person you spoke with, do not wish I had 6 houses. However, I am disappointed by the political and cultural aspects of medicine. I wish I could focus on patients more, and politics / culture less, perhaps like a dentist. I also wish I had not been put through much of this "system."

    I don't see why the anesthesia resident you spoke with can't go into investment banking now - it is still possible. Likely, many of us couldn't hack it..those careers are very tough as well..I know I would not make it in that world..

    I don't think money, or houses was my interest in life, but happiness was. I do think that the debt from medical school is too big, and the commitment to doing residencies / fellowships is too much. While my colleagues in Australia / Canada seem reasonably happy, I would not let my children go into medicine in this country. The respect is not there anymore for what we do, as shown by the debt and medico-legal system - Australia / Canada / Europe don't have that.

    I was able to avoid many of the nightmares associated with training by coming home for residency. I hope I can do 1/4th of what my mentor did with his life..

    Your old friend back home.