Often in the thick of studying for a final exam, when medicine seems to be reduced to just memorizing long lists of diseases, anatomy, drugs and information – I think and ask, why am I in medicine?
I remember before starting university and still was wondering what direction my life would take, I wrote out what I thought were the top 3 most pressing problems in the world. They were in no particular order
- Environmental Damage – including Global Warming, Pollution, Species Extinction.
- Extreme Poverty.
- Overpopulation and Intolerance to Others – including terrorism, peace conflicts, racism, etc.
When I look forward, I frequently question that difference a doctor can make. I acknowledge that you get to see the rewards of your efforts. Your actions have quick and direct results. But I wonder how much influence a doctor can have in large lasting changes? At most, a doctor will directly interact and help around ten thousand patients over his or her lifetime. A small drop in our global population.
Furthermore, for most doctors practicing in North America, they are treating people who have lived “privileged” lives. No war, no poverty, no famine or epidemics. Although we are helping people who have serious illnesses, there is always this guilt within me that tells me that there are people out there who are more deserving of help. People who live on less than a dollar a day, people who have never had an education, people who struggle everyday just to live.
I wonder how my studies in medicine are making the world a better place. Am I helping preserve our natural environment? How am I addressing the economic struggles of billions of people?
That’s why I think policy and research are so important. Passing a health care bill can instantly provide health care to millions who did not have access before. Vaccines have saved millions of children all around the world from debilitating diseases. As just a primary care physician, although you are helping many people directly, there is a limit to your abilities.
Everyone wants to change the world, few have the chance to, and fewer actually do. And often I wonder was studying medicine and becoming a doctor the right path to take. I guess my future is still ahead of me and it’s a bit too early to tell what’s in store down the road.