Why do we become doctors?


Another blogger wrote a lovely post recently about some of the challenges of being a medical student, and about her motivations for doing what she does. It reminded me of all the times I’ve wondered the same question.

Medicine is hard. Really, you say? Didn’t we tell you that before you started? Well yes of course, and I knew that and yes, I heard all those doctors who told me not to do it. I’m not deaf. I’m not stupid.

Medicine has been hard in ways I didn’t expect. The work is pretty full on, yes, but not really harder than another degree. Worse has been learning to be a student again, summoning up motivation to study, and exchanging friends for textbooks. And while medical school is one thing, I suspect working life will bring additional…issues. I’ve recently applied for my first Foundation doctor job, a national process that gives final year medical students a vague illusion of choice and autonomy before corralling them into random hospital posts across the country. That’s how it feels anyway. I find myself resenting this process heavily, given that as a… mature… student I would quite like some say in where I settle down for the next few years.

And of course it will continue to be hard. More exams, more job applications, more relocations, less time with partners, friends, children…and of course the sheer hardness of being a doctor at all. Of remembering all the blood results of every patient on your ward in case the consultant asks. Of knowing what to do when you’re the doctor on call and someone stops breathing. Of working out the real reason Mrs Singh has come to your GP clinic and managing her 26 differing needs in a way that is sensitive and appropriate and evidence based.

And to think I used to have jobs where all I needed to do was turn up at 9:30 (9:30!) and switch the computer on.

So why do we do it then? Is it because we “want to help people”? It’s the obvious med school interview answer, but you can help people as a plumber, teacher, hairdresser, kid’s party entertainer, politician – and have more time for your family. Is it to get rich? Better to choose banker, oil company executive, footballer’s wife. Is it because we love science? The thing is, medicine isn’t science, not really – you’d be better off in a lab.

For me, well I’m still not sure and the answer will probably keep evolving. But it probably involves needing some kind of job due to not being an heiress, being nosy about other people’s lives, the rush of a busy shift on call, the amazement of seeing a brand-new baby or someone’s insides, the daily ethical dilemmas, the joy of getting a thank-you kiss from an old lady, the satisfaction of making a diagnosis, the sheer daily variety and, yes, knowing that – even if it was just for an instant, I definitely did make a difference to someone’s day. (It could have been a net negative difference mind, but hopefully not).

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that at the end of the day we often make emotional rather than rational decisions about the most important things in our lives. I didn’t make a rational checklist when choosing my boyfriend – most people would agree that to be weird.

I know that as a medical student I still have a somewhat unsullied view of the daily grind. If you quote this post to me one 6am when I’m about to start my hour-long commute to work having been up all night feeding the baby, you can expect to get a slap. But I will try to thank you afterwards for reminding me.