When I was a child, I wanted to be a paediatrician. Then I wanted to be a journalist. Then I realized that journalists didn’t really make any money and the job had less reading that I liked, so I decided to go ahead with the previously shelved paediatrician dream. Little did I know.
While I was in St. Mary, our team of medical students was invited to give talks at two primary school career days – one in rural Marlborough (Marlborough Primary) and the other in the slightly more urban Highgate (St. Cyprian Prep). At Marlborough, most children wanted to be policemen and soldiers with a few nurses and teachers scattered throughout. There were about three kids who wanted to be doctors.
(Compared to St. Cyprian where almost half the school wanted to be doctors. I kid you not. When we arrived, a crowd of them descended on us like ants on milk. But the socioeconomic merits of that dichotomy are a story for another day.)
When it was my turn to talk, I told them that medical school was hard and they should start studying from now. I told them that medicine was exciting and you had so many different kinds of doctors that they would never be bored. I told them it was the coolest job ever.
I was lying through my teeth. I had skimmed off all the ugly parts to give them the foam off the top of a (insert favourite foamy drink here). Because leaving all the ugly bits in would probably have terrified the poor things.
Because what I really wanted to tell them was that they were SOL, that being a doctor was nothing like they thought it was, that medicine like every other profession (except politics) was seeing its own time of sic transit gloria. I wanted to tell them that the University is unfair and completely impractical in its decisions; that the annual tuition is probably more than their parents make in a year; that good grades were few and far between, yet horrible people just seem to multiply like fruit flies.
I wanted to tell them that medical school would suck the joie de vivre right out of them, what with dying patients, miserable working conditions and the ever depleting stack of resources; that they would be left cynical and bitter with a mountain of bills behind them and a few decades worth of working their butts off for minimal pay up ahead. I probably should have told them that the government appreciates its doctors less with every election, and that no one cares about whether you’re okay in your job as long as you keep on doing it; that I have met more miserable doctors than happy ones in my brief time among the white-coated.
But then I would also have to tell them that there is a special kind of thrill in being able to help someone who is ill; that even though most people are ungrateful it makes the thank-you’s all the more touching; and the first time you assist a successful resuscitation it feels like all your years of struggle have led up to this moment. (Of course it all goes downhill after that).
I would have to tell them that the mantle of Medical Doctor settles rather heavily around the shoulders – great power, great responsibility and all that – but that the pressure tends to produce a certain strength of character, a certain kind of fortitude. If you’ve got what it takes, that is. Not every molecule of carbon gets to be a diamond.
Maybe I should have scared them.