Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jennifer Frank, MD: Community helpers

Today, my kindergartner is dressing up as a “community helper” for school. Choices are abundant — firefighter, police officer, or teacher. She chose to be a doctor.

This is flattering. I don’t see myself as a community helper most days. Paperwork machine, drug dispenser, lecturer, cajoler — those are my roles. Of course, as a family physician, one of my main objectives is to help not only my patients but the community as a whole.

As my daughter heads off in her long white coat with her Fisher-Price doctor’s kit, I consider how I will feel if she chooses to be a doctor, not just for today, but for all of her days. Many doctors tend to discourage their children from pursuing a career in medicine. Burdens of managed care, reimbursement, and paperwork are onerous. Training is long and difficult. The lifestyle can be grueling. Family life can suffer. You can make more money doing things that don’t require the better part of your 20s and early 30s and exact the same emotional toll.
Read more
I would recommend her to carefully consider a future in medicine. She wants to be a wife and mother one day — and will be quite devoted, judging by the attention she shows to her dolls and stuffed animals. Being a wife and mother is hard work; it is important work. Many physicians start considering marriage and parenthood around the time they are choosing residencies and jobs. At the very moment all of your hard work in medical school is paying off in the form of a top choice residency or a position with a prestigious clinic or medical school department, you need to seriously consider other people’s needs — your spouse, your kids, your family.

Female physicians face unique challenges. Some specialties are still male-dominated and venturing into these arenas may require a thick skin and selective hearing. Even in female-friendly specialties, the physician may be the leader of a care team, a clinic, or a department in which she oversees other women — possibly other physicians, but also mid-level providers, nurses, administrative staff. Women are often unkind to other women and can undermine their success in leadership roles.

There are other challenges. Paperwork is time consuming. Medicine is a profession, not a job, and its demands on your time and attention have no limits. As a colleague once stated, “Medicine is a jealous mistress.” Your colleagues are often ambitious perfectionists who can display an amazing array of unhealthy behaviors.

Despite potential disadvantages, I would still encourage my children to consider this most rewarding of careers. The benefits of being a physician are innumerable. There are monetary benefits — physicians still make a great living. Physicians tend to be respected and admired. There is job security and tremendous flexibility in how and where you practice. Most importantly, you make a difference numerous times each day. You are invited into the most wonderful, painful, frightening, joy-filled, and ordinary moments of peoples’ lives. At the end of the day, it is still a privilege to practice medicine.

No comments:

Post a Comment