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What it means to be a doctor?

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What it means to be a doctor?

Dr. Meenu Walia
Medical Oncology, Oncology / Cancer Care
Medical Oncology, Oncology / Cancer Care
Director-Medical Oncology & Haematology

I remember there was a time when one took pride in being a doctor. They slogged years to reach the pinnacle of this reputed profession. Their children looked up to them with pride and they in turn, wanted their kids to be a healthcare professional too, someday. But this supposed illusion of mine was recently shattered. I was at a small get-together where some of my MBBS batch mates were present. Like all old friends reminiscing, we began discussing the good old days, asking each other if we ever regretted becoming a doctor. I, for one, take huge pride in being a doctor. So, as you might have guessed by now. The fact that at least 7 out of 10 said that they would not want their children to take up this profession, came as a huge shock to me.

But it also left me pondering – We used to put this profession on a pedestal? What changed? When did we begin viewing it through a different lens?

When I was a child, the only two glamorous professions that existed for the so-called intellectuals of the society were either “medical” or “engineering”. But today, the world is no longer the same. 

The world has moved leaps and bounds in the past decade. Internet has opened a whole new world of opportunities for the young. In fact, recently a reputed publication reported that fewer students are opting for medicine. This is a serious issue. Is it the availability of alternate and more lucrative careers or the changing attitude of society at large?

So what is the hardest part that is deterring young people from choosing medicine as a profession? Is it the hard, arduous and long journey of becoming a doctor? Unless the desire to excel is strong, it is really tough to get through the ordeal of never-ending studies, tutorials and further studies. The journey also entails a prolonged incubation period between entry into MBBS to becoming a full-fledged specialized doctor which drains many. While your batch mates in other fields are planning retirement, a doctor after completing his studies and super specialization has just started making a name for himself/herself in the field.

The two hardships enlisted above are no secret. While most people willingly embrace them, it is the paradigm shift in the expectations from this profession that shakes young people. Most of us from my generation were attracted to medicine as a profession simply because of the enormous respect that was associated with the profession. The word doctor invariably was suffixed with “Sahib" as a token of respect. But the society, at large is not very tolerant at present and medical profession is not an exception to this.

The recent change in the attitude of the society is catastrophic. Doctors today are perceived more as a 'service provider' rather than a dedicated professional. Medical practitioners have become more defensive. Physicians are constantly worrying about missing a threatening diagnosis, unintentionally spreading infection or committing a technical error. The fear stems from a profound anxiety of dealing with many grey areas of medical practice. With time, one has realized that medical science is also an art rather than simple scientific formulas. Doctors today also fear and are more often than not, paranoid of being sued for malpractice, which haunts majority in this field nowadays.

However, there are always two sides to a coin. Being a doctor is extremely rewarding. It always was and it will continue to be so. Making challenging diagnosis, helping patients deal with and overcome devastating illnesses, and comforting families after a loss of a loved one - these are powerful emotional experiences that a doctor faces every single day. No other profession can provide such profound sense of fulfillment like medicine. Those who have an inquisitive mind and a quest for learning, medicine is their journey to embark upon, with its endless opportunities. 

The intricacies of the human body can be incredibly fascinating. Exploring reasons behind its functioning, treatment, etc can be really intriguing to a human mind. With new advancements being made every day, there is always something new to learn and new thresholds to cross. The increasing number of diseases globally, continuing mortality and ongoing research on incurable diseases, provide ample opportunities for inquisitive minds to challenge and re-challenge themselves. 

On a personal front, I feel no other profession can give such an opportunity for deep insight into life as this. Seeing the miseries of disease and death at such close quarter, changes one’s perspective towards life. If nothing else, it definitely evolves the soul and forces almost everybody in this profession to ponder about life and death questions. Especially in specialties like cancer, nephrology etc where you see prolonged illnesses. One sees humanity and human behaviour both at its best and worst. The harsh realities of human relationships and complex equations guiding human behaviour may be depressing for some but definitely teaches a lot. One witnesses so many different kinds of cases - right from cerebral palsy, Down syndrome to various hypochondriacs. You see young children suffering from incurable diseases, for no fault of theirs. At times, doctors need to find super-human strength to helplessly watch the condition of their patients going downhill. You see patients suffering from terminal illnesses & clinging desperately to hope. All this can be very - very depressing and emotionally draining. 

Yes, being in this profession can be quite stressful and hard especially while announcing critical medical conditions and near death situations. But equally rewarding part of being a doctor is watching the relief, happiness on the faces of patients and the attendants of a cured one. This profession brings with itself, tremendous responsibilities. As a doctor, your patient’s health and very often, their life, is in your hands. You may find yourself under extremely stressful situations and may have to take life-saving decisions within split seconds. It requires immense strength to be able to handle it and take responsibilities, whether things go right or wrong. 

Undoubtedly, it is still the best profession to be able to give back to society. Being a doctor empowers you to be able to do something for the sick and ailing, instead of just watching helplessly. The feeling that your knowledge or actions can help someone and society at large - is what makes this job so immensely satisfying.