Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ask Not What Your Profession Can Do For You...

What can the medical profession do for humanity?

What has this, one of the most ancient professions, one of the most controversial and yet highly respected "conspiracies against the laiety" (as George Bernard Shaw put it --Ed) do for mankind? What HAS it done, through the ages, through all the civilisations, battles and revolutions that have shaped mankind?

Being in a highly traditional course, it is easy to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. This is simply because the tunnel is so long (a Cambridge medical course lasts 6 years; longer if you choose certain course options). I signed up to be a doctor. I wanted to wear the white coat, to treat patients, to haunt hospitals, to prescribe medicine. But a medical course is not so easy. Before they teach you what you need to go out into the world and treat, you have to jump over a few hurdles first. You have to learn biochemistry. You have to learn physiology. You have to learn pharmacology. Many aspects of these subjects will not be necessary for your career. Entire chapters will be more appropriate for pure scientists than for medics. But for various reasons, you have to learn everything. It's good for you.

But it makes you forget. It makes you look at medicine as one long tortuous road with no end in sight. It turns you into a fact-memorising, exam-taking machine. Nowhere is this more apparent than here in Cambridge, where some of the world's brightest students come and, adapting the most successful strategy to pass exams, turn into emotionless nerds.

And there comes a point when you forget what you're doing this for. What it was that drove you, idealistic and bright-eyed, to medical school in the first place. What you believed the medical profession could do.

But every once in a while, along comes something to remind you. Along comes something that tells you that there is a world out there, with real living breathing patients to treat. This, for me, came in the form of this snippet from Grey's Anatomy a few weeks ago. It is a clip that every medical student, indeed every healthcare professional, should watch:

Yes, it's cheesy. Yes, it's a scripted show. But it rings true. When I watched it, the spoon from my plate to my mouth froze in mid-air for a good two minutes. This realisation, this faith in medicine being able to do more than simply cure people and send them home, is what drives hundreds of thousands of dedicated doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals around the world, even in crappy medical systems.

We all need to be reminded. We all need to know that medicine can do more for humanity than what is apparent. Some of us need to be reminded more than others. But the knowledge will keep us all going.


Anonymous said...

To be a doctor is a very noble profession indeed. It's just too bad the studying takes half your life away. However, i'm sure you'll make it, Angry, don't lose sight of YOUR light at the end of the tunnel.


zewt said...

well, only with such a long and painful journey, that you will appreciate your end product. it's sad to see a lot of docs turning into money mongers.

oh, i have a friend whose brother is a doc and he said something really interesting. he said he refused to specialise... becos most (if not all) who specialise are doing it mainly for the money. thus, being a GP, he will be able to help a variety of people. plus, it's cheaper too. what do you think?

Heck... the chief is retiring? damn, i havent reach that episode yet. and something is wrong with the connection... i only manage to get like 10 seconds of the clip.

zewt said...

ah... got the video. and damn, u dont have to include the retiring chief part in right?

miranda bailey, my fav character actually. she deserves her best actress award.

Dr K said...

Don't worry Angry, in a while (it happened to me in the third year of my traditional style med course) it will all make sense and you'll suddenly realise that all the basic science really is worthwhile, is all connected, and really does make you understand all the clinical stuff you have to learn later.

The Angry Medic said...

Elle: Aww, thanks so much, dear. I'll try not to. It really is sad when medics do; they either change profession or, as Zewt put it under you, they become money-mongers.

Zewt: Whoops! Sorry, I forgot people might not hav gone on that far! But it doesn't matter, because right after this episode it's back to Uncertainty-Land because suddenly the chief might not retire any more (we still don't know). So nothing's changed :P

And you're right, she deserves the award. Fantastic work done.

I wish there were more docs in the world like your friend's bro.

Dr K: Thank you. Thank you so much. That is exactly what I need to hear right now. Because it all DOES seem like a slog, and sometimes when my friends (invariably from professions which mean they'll graduate earlier and earn more faster than I will) ask me why I bothered taking up medicine in the first place, I honestly can't think of an answer.

Dr K said...

I'm glad I've said something useful!

It sounds pathetic (especially in a med school interview) to talk about 'helping people' but it's what medicine is all about and it really is what makes it worthwhile. When your money making friends are doing their much-hated jobs just to pay the bills, desperate to get home at the end of the week and planning going part time because they can't stand it anymore (like some of my non-medical friends), you will be doing your (maybe partly-loved and partly-hated) medical job and however desperate you are to get home you'll know you've done something at work that's really helped somebody. It does happen sometimes, honest!

The Quiet Storm said...

Are you as yummy as Dr McDreamy or as gloom as Dr Doom? A fusion of both would be ideal, at least for me, that is.

Bohemian Road Nurse... said...

Amen to that. I love that clip...

MedStudentGod (MSG) said...

I just want to know why in the hell you're going to school for SIX YEARS? God almighty man! That's...that's just too much. Crimony.

And where in the hell did you get my photo? I didn't realize my lips were that big.

Chrysalis Angel said...

Angry Medic, ahh the lenghts an angel will go to, to communicate. I can't get to you like your other bloggers, but I'm resourceful. Don't ever, ever lose sight of're doing what you're doing. You are needed. Medicine is becoming cold, except for a few good men and women that need help with the load. Don't forget who the first surgeon was...The very first transplant, was the ribs.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, me again. But in response to your reply to dr k, there's really nothing to lose by graduating a little later, and joining the rat race a little later.

I have a friend who is slogging away and now she wants to go back to studying. Enjoy your uni years while you can.


Prof Scrub said...

Dear inspiring angry medic,

Let me tell you that I trained to be a doctor and surgeon so that I may band peoples haemorrhoids - thereby alleviating suffering of millions of pile sufferers. A just and rewarding profession indeed.

Your pile fighter,
Prof Scrub

Harry said...

wow what season is that? Or is it not out on DVD yet??

cmon, update already!

Keep on bloggin'

The Angry Medic said...

Dr K: Heh. I know it does. I know many good doctors (yourself included) who genuinely love their jobs and don't do it for the money/glamour/insert superficial reward here. But it's getting harder to see nowadays, isn't it?

But you're absolutely right. Unlike other professions, you'll know beyond the shadow of a doubt that what you did matters a LOT to someone; literally the difference between life and death. And knowing that helps. A lot.

Thanks again. SO much.

The Quiet Storm: Heh. Believe it or not, I've been mistaken many many times for Patrick Dempsey. It's gotten to the point where I can't even do my job any more because I'm being accosted by patients and lovesick nurses. Sigh...good looks are both a blessing and a curse sometimes... ;)

I try and keep the gloom away. Heaven knows there's enough out there haunting us doctors.

Bohemian: Aww thanks. It touched me, it really did. Glad you liked it. Means something coming from you.

MedStudentGod: Heh. Yep, in your third year Cambridge makes you do a research project (sort of like a compulsory intercalated year). You get an extra degree for it, though (a BA that turns into an MA after 3 years) but the slog is significant. Finally, someone who agrees with me that 6 years is maddening!

And oh hoho, you're funny, you are. I must've found it in one of the many religious texts quoting you :)

The Angry Medic said...

Chrysalis Angel: Aww, thanks so much for trying! I got your email, and it really touches me that you kept trying. And to leave such a profound comment too. Heh. They say surgeons are descended from butchers, but they have no idea of the profession's divine origins, do they? :)

Elle: Thanks for that. You're absolutely right of course. I realise that my uni years are prolly the most fun bits...I'm drowning in work, but I'm doing stuff that I probably won't get to do ever again (and will miss terribly). Ah well, hindsight is 20/20 after all :)

Prof Scrub: So you ARE alive! I presume you read my completely innocent comment on your blog? Adding 'proctologist' to your list of accomplishments is a wise move, o Prof.

Harry: Yikes mate, I had no idea I was spoiling it for people out there. But it doesn't matter really, cos in typical Grey's turnaround style, it turns out the chief may NOT retire, and as of the latest episode we're back where we began. So no spoilers. It's Season 3, by the way. Don't think it's out yet on Amazon. Don't you get it on TV dude?

Anonymous said...

"You have to learn biochemistry. You have to learn physiology. You have to learn pharmacology."

- we learn these subjects to a rudimentary level only. don't get too over-confident.

Grammar police said...

"too over-confident"


Consider "over-confident"

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

*police sirens wailing in the background*

Argus Lou said...

A touching and important post, Angry M. It reminded me of the 40something surgeon who performed bypasses on my mum's legs (the arteries); she was diabetic. He came back to the ward every night after dinner to check on his patients and talk to them. (I salute his wife for her understanding and support.) And his fees were only a fraction of the hospital bill.

(On an 'ahem' note, please let your 'ed' know that one jumps OVER hurdles and through HOOPS.
Jumping 'through a hurdle' might hurt your gorgeous bod and mess up your pretty eyelashes, sweetie.)

Grammar police said...

Well spotted, Argus Lou. Would you like to make a citizen's arrest?

*police sirens wailing in the background*

The Angry Medic said...

Yikes. Touch-EE.

Anonymous: Rudimentary, mate? You really think so? Cos that recent Pharmacology lecture with Henrik van Veen jumping around shouting 'D-ala-D-ala' like a Muslim jihadist sounded pretty advanced to me.

But then again, you're prolly right, cos anything beyond 'glycine is an amino acid' is beyond rudimentary to me. *drools, scratches head* head hurts.

Grammar Police: Heh. Thanks. I salute your brave efforts to ensure high standards of language in today's dirty dangerous world. Now get off my lawn, I ain't made no mistakes today! (After correcting that mistake Argus Lou pointed out, of course. Ahem. I will have words with my Editor).

Argus Lou: Whoa, your mum was really lucky. Some surgeons are really caring that way. Unfortunately when my family member underwent surgery, the surgeon in charge was Ms Impersonal about it all.

Oh, and like I told Grammar Police above, thanks for pointing that out. My editor must've been drunk or something. Really need to cut his pay for that. Sheesh. Just can't find good editors nowadays.

Thanks :)

medstudentitis said...

I have spent a lot of time in medical school studying for the "test". Then I realized, I'm going to actally NEED to know these things for my patients' sake. The rest of my life is a test. Unfortunately, I think I've already forgotten everything from year 1.

Cal said...

Angry, you'll be fine, I promise!

It may seem so obscure and crap now, but trust me, you'll love being in the hospital on rotations. It's well worth the wait.

And look, next year, I'll be the one stuck in a lab learning about Caspase-8 (actually Caspase-12, there's a ginormous difference there, didntchaknow) and partying with E. Coli and centrifuges...

Cal said...

Also, having read some of the comments - I refuse to watch the video clip. I'm only just beginning to get into Grey's Anatomy right from the beginning! (Slow on the uptake, I know, I know...)

Argus Lou said...

Grammar Police, I make no citizen's arrest. The kid cannot afford a lawyer and ah doan wannim ta engayge a loya buruk at taxpayers' expense, thankee.

Angry M, I'm at your service as usual. Regards & salute.

The Angry Medic said...

Cal: Aw thanks. I really can't wait to start hospital rotations. I attend to all my friends' colds and flus with a zeal that frightens them. I can't wait to start clinical work and have the zeal beaten out of me by sheer volume of work :)

And hey, like I said, the clip doesn't really spoil anything. But you're JUST starting to watch GA? Cally! Which planet have you been living on?

Ooh, you've shortened your Blogger name to 'Cal'. Very chic, I must say :)

Argus Lou: Aww thanks. I'd only get some crappy public lawyer if you decided to press charges, and as repeated watching Boston Legal has shown me, that means I'm screwed :)

Scrub said...

Greys Anatomy! Enough said. I love that programme it is beyond awesome!

Grammar police said...

Someday, I will be the greatest Grammar Policeperson in the world.

Cal said...

Heh, you noticed! :D Yup. Cal it is now.
And yeah, what can I say, I really have been in my own world with regards to t.v. I still haven't watched a single episode of Prison Break or Ugly Betty, but I'm going to soon! Honestly!

It'll be so fun reading your entries about your clinical years when I'll be stuck in a bloody lab or lectures next year. I'm going to live vicariously through you!! (Just an advance warning!)

Have you thought about where you are going to do your clinical years? Are you going to stay in Cambridge, or migrate?

The Angry Medic said...

Scrub: Amen, sistah! The show is awesome. I wanna be a surgeon now.

Grammar Police: Have you watched the film 'Hot Fuzz'? You strike me as having watched it too many times...

Cal: Someone's been working too hard, I see! Thank goodness there's so you can catch up, eh? :)

And ooh, those are deep questions. I'll tell you in an email on Sunday (after my play's over...rehearsals are KILLING me!)

angry doc said...

I think medicine keeps people alive and healthy so they have more choices on what to do with their lives. What choices they make is beyond my control, but we give them the chance to make those choices, good or evil. Is that a noble thing? I don't know... but the pay is good!

Nearly Dr Radders said...

I did the Cambridge clinical course before heading off elsewhere.

I applied to Cambridge because of it. I wanted to study science. Medicine as a whole is simply a 5-6 year long training course rather disimilar from other students "studying" their subjects. The Cambridge course is different - you can study medical science - you can do a research project in your third year in virtually whatever you choose. This can be great - if you choose the right topic.

But how does this apply to actually doing medicine as a job. In my oppinion it helps but obviously I cant compare directly but I think the "basic" science background really allows you to understand medicine in practice. Things are increasingly paint by numbers in medicine but patients dont follow protocols, things can happen that were not covered in your case studies and having the knowledge to work things through fro first principals can be helpful.

At most medical school interviews they ask "Why do you want to be a Doctor?" at Cambridge they ask "Why do you want to study medicine?"

The difference doesnt suit all but if thats what you want - Cambridge is great

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Katherine said...

One of my enduring memories of knowing medical students when I was at Cambridge was the somber and serious demeanor they had when they all went to attend the memorial services of the people whose bodies they had been dissecting. They'd spent lots of the time in the preceding terms making some seriously sick jokes around dissection, but they all without fail went to say thank you and good bye. That made me feel good about doctors.