During orientation for my third-year obstetrics rotation, one of the senior obstetricians picked on me and asked, “Why did you choose to study medicine?” and I almost immediately answered, “To help people.” Then he accused me of being a liar insisting that we had all joined medicine to make money.
He was right actually, making money was high on my list of criteria for choosing a career. With the job security and decent pay, at least I would be able to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table. What he wasn’t right about though was that I didn’t primarily choose this career to help people.
In fact, number one reason why I chose medicine was for the benefit of others. I wanted as I have, to help people in need and I had reasoned earlier that the best way I could do this was by becoming a doctor. But after four years of med school, a ton more exposure and wisdom, I offer this advice. If the sole reason you want to do medicine is to help people, then don’t!
Not only did I consider medicine the best way I could help people, it was to me the only way I could. I had long given up on all my hobbies and talents that I couldn’t look beyond the academic path that had somehow invariably led to medicine. Worse still, I didn’t have the courage to try anything else. What you realise sooner than later in medical school is that there are many ways you can help people and many of these may actually be at your disposal.
Patients in hospitals do not only die because the doctors are bad or incompetent but also because the nurses are negligent, there are no drugs and sundries in the hospital or the health workers are overwhelmed by the workload. The public health systems are ineffective, family supports are lacking, morals are decayed…there are many reasons for our suffering and all of them are worth our time and efforts to solve them.
Not all philanthropists are doctors and neither is medicine the highest form of altruism.
I appreciate that people who are not doctors can have a tremendous effect on the health of patients. One wonders, if to save lives was one’s primary goal then why choose to become a doctor. If all you want to do is help people, then let that be your primary goal, not becoming a doctor!
Consider yourself, your abilities, opportunities, and weaknesses. Is this really the best way you could be of help to others? And it might be true for you that this is indeed the best way you could be of service to other people in which case you should waste no time in applying to medical school and putting in the hard work because the world needs you. But if you could help people better in another capacity, go for it. You could save a life now and then as a doctor but you would be much more effective in another profession say as an educator, business person, politician, spiritual leader and so on. By insisting on pursuing a career in medicine, you are not fully exploring your potential. In fact, medicine is in a sense below you because it does not display you in all your colours; it does not challenge you in the ways that matter. Think outside the box, outgrow your childish ways. Believe it or not, there are more ways to help people than by being a doctor.
Featured image: Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, a philanthropic organisation. Bill is not a doctor!