A Chinese folktale goes like this,
A magnificent Buddha statute sits at the mountain top where worshipers climb 100’s of 1000’s steps of stairs to arrive at his foot and to kneel down in prayers.
One day, the slab of stones from the winding stair cried out to the Buddha, “We are made from the same stone carved from this very mountain. Why is it that every day thousands of people step on me to kneel at your feet in prayers?”
The Buddha, serenely, with one tear down his cheek, “Do you know how many slashes and burns, how much hurt I endure to be who I am today?”
To some degree, the story of the Buddha and the stairs parallel those of US doctors and the rest of the society. Do you wish to be the Buddha or the stairs?
Many days of my life, I’ve wished that I have chosen to be the stairs. In fact, I’d happy to serve a purpose in our society, even if it means that it’s not perceived as prestigious as being a physician. A function, a service is all I want to provide my fellow human beings.
Yet I was dreamy, I chose medicine as my primary way to serve my neighbors, near and far, anyone who’s brought to the hospital where I work. I did not know how hard a(n aspiring) doctor’s life is. How much it demands of me and of my loved ones.
- What we have gone through to complete medical school is nothing short of epic. For one thing, how does one focus on learning, studying so much material (2 weeks in medical school covers 1 year of undergraduate upper division science class), while enduring the financial stress of borrowing 100k a year @ 7% interest rate while in school?
- For many, just getting into medical school exhausts all resources and energy they have… then they are expected to perform like super human the day med school starts.
- The residency match was yet another bizarrely inefficient and antiquated torture for the aspiring physicians and their loved ones. I was on the road, away from my 5 year old for 6 months, traveling from one city to another across the country, speed dating residency programs, spending 1 day/1 night at each program. The whole job search for a residency spot that pays 50k/year cost 20k of traveling expenses, not to mention the damage done by forcing our partners to be single parents, and our kids to have absentee parents. The only explanation offered to our little ones was, “daddy/mommy is gone because he/she is trying to find a job.”
The worst part of this all is that, our society does not see the burns and slashes of medical training, all they see is the magnificent Buddha sitting at the mountain top, worshiped and prayed to.
Next time someone remarks that doctors have it easy, please take a few minutes and share your journey with them. If you don’t have time to so, share an article or two about physician suicide with these people who think that doctors should be from the public service loan forgiveness program because they make too much money.
We, doctors or not, are in fact made of the same material.
While doctors don’t expect to receive charity or pity from what we endure, we could certainly use some understanding and support from those around us by raising awareness regarding what it really takes to pursue and practice medicine.
While the majority of press attention doctors get are the few bad apples who defame our profession, we could make a change, by starting a grassroots movement. Share with our patients and the society at large what we are truly about. We need to shed light on and reform antiquated physician training/schooling styles and protocols. We need to remove the causes of physician suicides. Shedding light on rather than covering up the problem is the first step to finding solutions.
Please join me in Physician Support Initiative (P.S.I.)
P.S.I. aims to raise awareness, empower, and support doctors & their community in maximizing their individual and collective wellness in all of life’s dimensions, encompassing personal, professional, psycho-social, and financial health.
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