The direction medicine is taking is becoming more and more of one encouraging conformity rather than one of individuality. It’s hard not to lose your individuality after enduring so much training and hours of work. Doctors have four years of college followed by four years of medical school. So that’s eight years of education after school. After that, there are at least three years of residency followed by a possible fellowship. So in total, we have 12 years of school, eight years of college, and about five years of training. A total of 25 years of a doctor’s first 30 years of life are spent learning and training. There’s very little time to pursue and seek other interests. Personally, I’ve had colleagues in medical school who had to drop their hobbies because they couldn’t keep up with their studies. Some of them were really good at the things they did too, up to being champions in a particular sport.
We shouldn’t forget who we are in the process of becoming doctors. Yes, being a doctor is a lifestyle, but it’s not a personality. We all have a certain character in mind when we think of doctors, but what we think of are traits such as professionalism and politeness. This doesn’t entail how a doctor is to act generally and what his or her interests are.
Individuality is important because it’s what brilliance and innovation stem from. Anyone you can recall from history expressed individuality. If they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be remembered just like the millions of people who we know nothing about. If you want people to remember you, rather than just be a transient passenger in the world, then you need to express yourself as an individual. Albert Einstein was an individual. The man worked hard and pursued what he loved, and in the end left the world with so much more knowledge than was already there before he was born. What about Van Gogh? Sure he was troubled, but that’s part of his brilliance. Mozart, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan are all people who expressed their individuality and were rewarded for it. Aren’t you glad they did that? Isn’t the world a better place because of them?
By expressing yourself and pursuing the things you love and think about, you’re actively making the world a better place. They can tell you that you’ll never get into a particular residency or fellowship, but if you love it enough you should try anyway. If you make it, then you might be the best doctor that specialty has ever seen. You love oncology? Become an oncologist. What if you end up discovering a cure for cancer? Who will be a happier person then? You having pursued what you love and discovering something that changed the world, or others who did exactly what they were expected to and followed the regular path?
Medicine is a field that's always changing and that’s because doctors keep discovering things every single day. If they stopped doing so, the world of medicine would be doomed. There are so many diseases we know very little about and have very little to treat. Things like systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV are all diseases we don’t have a cure for. There is so much in medicine that is yet to be discovered and for that to happen, doctors need to express themselves and look to add more to medicine rather than just being passive participants.
Of course, there are plenty of obstacles that get in the way of that. One of these is the long path to being a doctor, where so much is lost. You had to drop tennis because you didn’t have time to study, you stopped playing the piano because you didn’t have time, and you stopped going home to see your parents because tests were coming up. These are issues med students and residents face every single day and they really take away from who we are. We become incredibly goal-oriented, always focusing on what needs to be done next. We’re thinking about the next class, test, round, or shift in the hospital. We no longer have time to reflect. Reflection is an essential part of any creative and maturing process. Newton discovered gravity by reflecting. You need to take time and ask yourself, why is this happening? What do these 2 patients have in common, besides their condition?
The reliance on evidence-based medicine is also starting to get in the way of individuality. Little by little, how you deal with a patient is becoming something that is dictated that you have to follow strictly. Any deviation from what you’re supposed to do could lead to you being sued for malpractice, which is enough of a fear to prevent any room for creativity. Evidence-based medicine is there to help us rather than get in our way. Also, let’s not forget how evidence-based medicine is made. These texts didn’t fall from the sky, they were written by people like you and me. If you disagree with something that is being said, then challenge it. Do research and see whether you were right or if they were right all along. Either way, both results will help the medical world by either confirming what was already known or proving it to be wrong.
Learning how to overcome conformity isn’t easy. It’s especially hard if you’ve been practicing medicine for so long that you don’t remember what life was like before it and you’re already set in your ways. For medical students, it’s easier. They just need to remember who they are and keep discovering themselves. Learn that there’s more to life than being a doctor. Don’t quit basketball, keep painting, and stay in touch with your loved ones. Find new hobbies as well. There’s time for everything if you want to. People often underestimate how much time there is in a day or a week. Trust me, if you’re willing to give up time spent doing absolutely nothing, then you’ll have time to do anything else that you want.
Remind yourself that you didn’t come this far just to be a passive participator. You wanted to become a doctor because you wanted to save lives. You wanted to cure cancer. You didn’t want anyone to go through what someone you love went through. Use all of this to motivate you. Limit the time spent in your practice and use that extra time for research or even just reflection. Individuality isn’t just for discoveries, but also for how you deal with patients. Learn from senior doctors and take the best way each of them deals with a patient and leave the bad. Formulate your own persona in order to find the optimum method to communicate with patients.
Basically, there’s no one way to do things in medicine. If that was the case, then doctors would be replaced by machines. No matter how much this is talked about or imagined it’s never going to happen. Being a doctor is one of the oldest professions in the history of mankind and I doubt anything can happen that can end it and replace doctors. No algorithm or machine will be able to do what a doctor does, because even a doctor who has been stripped of all individuality and sense of self will be able to do one thing if necessary that a machine can never learn to do: reflect.
- Maintaining individuality is key to retaining personality as a doctor.
- Don't give up on your hobbies.
- Find ways to make time for yourself, despite your busy career.