Saturday, November 24, 2012

Do I Really Want To Quit?

     This is a tough question.
     I think about medicine and my patients all the time.  When I quit, what will fill all that mental space?      Physicians don't give up their medical affiliations just because they stop practicing their trade.
     My brother, David, went to medical school, then did one year of internship.  After that, he decided to work as an emergency room doctor for a few years to pay some of his debts.
     In his first year out of school he got sued by the family of a patient whose daughter, a hospital nurse, had stopped him in the hospital corridor and asked him to check out a mole.
     "You'd better go see a dermatologist right now about that," he said.
     She died a year later of malignant melanoma, not having taken his advice.  She hadn't been his patient, so he didn't have medical records documenting the "hallway visit" or his advice that she seek immediate medical advice.  It was his word against the unfortunate woman's family's word.
     The lawsuit dragged on and on and my brother, discouraged, stopped practicing medicine forever.  That was thirty-two years ago.  He worked for the pharmaceutical company, Wyeth, for many years, then retired.
     He had been a practicing doctor for exactly one year, and never again felt the desire to work as a clinician with patients.  Nevertheless, every two years for thirty-two years he has renewed his medical license, paid the fees, and continued to belong to the club.  He still reads medical journals, and when the conversation turns to medicine, he joins in with so much erudition and enthusiasm you would think he had been practicing medicine for decades.
     It's a hard identity to give up.  The dues we pay to become physicians--many years of nothing but studying; a decade or more of sleep deprivation; living, thinking, breathing medicine; making crucial decisions that have dire consequences; drawing to ourselves people who look up to us and stake their lives on us;  constantly living with the uncertainties of ill-health, difficult diagnoses, and inadequate research;  faced with death, constantly, the prospect of death, death, death--these factors cement our perceptions of ourselves, permanently.
     I will quit practicing medicine, but I can't quit being a doctor.  The choice to attend medical school and identify myself as a healer was one I made for life.  What it will mean for me to be a doctor once I close the doors of my practice and stop treating patients--that's not easy to imagine, not easy at all.


  1. The point of being a doctor is not only about curing the physical illness, it is also about building a trusting relationship with the patients, the strangers and the human beings. As long as you are still trusted, or remembered by your patients, you will never lose your identity, and you are still a great doctor. :)

  2. Can you imagine "RETIRED DOCTOR"??

    Enjoying life, not a worry in the world, no schedules



  3. it is what it is

    we r what we r

  4. Wow, you really aren't good at this, are you? Is this your attempt at advancing a relationship, the meek utterances of an illiterate secret admirer? You can't string a sentence together and you expect to discuss Junian archetypes over wine?

    Has the secret admirer strategy ever worked for you or is there a string of women freaked out at your creepy advances?

  5. I'm so glad that I have had the same spouse for forty years... Junian? None for me over wine, thanks.

  6. Typing on a smart-phone easily results in typos. That should have read, "Jungian".

  7. Thanks. Jungian archetypes ring a bell. I'd really want to pass on that topic. Do people really talk about that sort of thing over wine? I get talkative over reinforced concrete design....I'm one of those not so smart engineers (farm raised). Okay, I get why I'm not on any social register.

    I know what you mean about typing on a smart-phone, though. I have trouble with my iPad correcting me. Sometimes I'm wrong and it has helped, but the self-correction has done me in more than once. I bet we are not alone in that. I hate it when I touch the x button (delete) and a whole line is erased before I can catch up with it. It is beyond my patience. If it is a small mistake or if it is a word changed but is easily derived by context then I just let it go. This is only blogging.

    1. Rinker you are one cool engineer.
      By the way, how is business these days?
      Jungian Archetype....maybe