This past semester the book was used by a pre-health class at Point Loma, and the students submitted questions as part of their assignment. I got a copy of that list, and they were great questions! I’m going to try to answer a question every couple of weeks, so here’s the first!
“Looking back on your journey into medicine, what aspect of medicine made it “worth it” (worth the time, money, energy, many hours of studying, etc.) to pursue for you, and how has your view shifted (or remained the same) today?”
Now that I am done with my training and have been in working for a few years, I can say that the realities of medical practice is definitely much different than what I expected as a pre-med, and even as a medical student. To answer the second part of your question first, the two major frustrations I have encountered as a physician are the 1) the brokenness of the medical system impacting the type of care I can provide, and 2) the non-medical nature, or components, of complaints I get from patients.
As for 1), the sad reality is that medicine in the US is a commodity, and healthcare a business. Of course there should be appropriate checks in how doctors should practice, but unfortunately, it really comes down to maximizing profit which means seeing as many patients as you can. In the underserved community clinics where I work, there is less of that, but then there’s the problem of less resources available. And now with the expanded healthcare coverage, which is great for my patient population, even underserved community clinics are pushing to see more and more patients since they can finally be reimbursed for the care they provide. So, in the 15 minute time slots, doctors really only have a fraction of that time for direct patient care if they don’t want to stay after hours to finish all my charting and other admin work.
Not only is the system broken, 2) the nature of healthcare has changed too with primary care being mostly about chronic disease management. The most common conditions I see are diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol with all its complications. Sadly, these are largely preventable diseases and largely related to lifestyle choices. While people want to feel better, they don’t want to change the way they live (sometimes they can’t change because of socio-economic factors like no access to affordable healthy foods or safe places to exercise). There’s nothing quite as defeating as spending extra time counseling patients and coming up with a game plan to find out at the next return visit that things are worse. Going into medicine, I thought I was going to come in and change everyone’s lives, impacting them like Jesus did. But even in Jesus’ time, there were people who didn’t really care for true healing, but just wanted the miracles.
So real-life practice is not what I expected going into medicine. But, as frustrating and infuriating (at times) medical practice can be, I will say that it has been and still is worth all that it took to get to where I am. And that is because I constantly come back to the realization that my pursuit of medicine would not be just about my own fulfilment, but about God’s kingdom. If me being in medicine was simply about being happy that I get to help people and make a good living, then no this would not have been worth it.
Without the kingdom perspective, I would have burned out long ago (and I haven’t even been practicing that long!). You don’t have to search very hard to find articles about physician dissatisfaction and doctors leaving medicine. But with God and His kingdom purposes in the picture, I still see that being in medicine is so strategic in pointing people to the realities of heaven where there is no sickness, death, and suffering.
It may not happen with every patient, and may even happen very far and few in between, but if we are open, God does arrange for divine appointments where we can have more than just physical impact. This looks different for each patient, and for each specialty, but the opportunities are there if we have the sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and the courage to act on those promptings. And the really cool part is that we don’t have to try to love people in our own strength. As long as we are abiding in Christ and receiving from Him, God will continue to strengthens us for His kingdom work.
Medicine opens up so many doors to be used by God in powerful ways. My prayer is that as you continue in this path, you would make choices to put God first starting now so that when you are done with your training, medicine can still be about Him, rather than just about yourself.