Visions (but not like, the high kind)

Lately I’ve been feeling really stressed out at work. Proper stress: headaches, stomach aches, feeling like I was about to explode from internal pressure. I was freaking out about my work responsibilities which seemed to loom ever larger in my paranoid imagination, but in reality were only so intimidating because I was setting the bar so very high for myself.

I started listening to this podcast a few months ago. And while it’s a kick-ass repository of career advice and entertaining conversations on how to be awesome at your job, it was also setting me up for failure. Every new technique I learnt, I wanted to start doing immediately. I judged my own growth against concepts and ideas from more experienced professionals and found myself painfully lacking. I threw myself into a fit, trying to ‘catch up’ and ‘do it all’. My control freak tendencies came out full force.

And week after week, my job resisted all attempts at micromanaging. Shockingly, people are impossible to control. I know this is breaking news to you guys, so maybe take a second to get used to this epiphany. Patients do whatever the hell they want, responsibilities and priorities shift all the time, colleagues do not share your work ethic, etc etc.

Mercifully, the culmination of all this stress was a breakthrough and not a breakdown. Driving home on the verge of tears for the fifth Monday in a row I let my thoughts swirl around the car interior like angry wasps. Then among the wasps, wisps of remembered conversations and podcasts snippets coalesced to remind me of a word I had forgotten in my desperate scramble to control.


I didn’t have any. Or I had too much. I didn’t know, because in the middle of all this over-thinking and I had never actually stopped to think about what I wanted to make happen. I was furiously building a boat on dry land without ever having dreamed of the sea.

So I started dreaming, and I started writing things down. I wrote quickly, more concerned with getting the ideas out of my head before they exploded my head. I edited after, because I have standards.

And incredibly I felt lighter. The stress had shifted from an angry hornet’s nest to a more manageable ball of barbed wire. I knew what I was aiming for now, what the end result should look like, and I had something I could show to other people and ask for help so I’d feel less alone. It was incredible.

In his seminal work, Stephen Covey talks about how important it is for a leader to have vision. He makes the analogy of a group of people in a forest working to clear a path, with managers directing the machete-wielders to chop down the right set of trees. But the leader is the one who climbs up, looks around and yells, ‘Wrong forest!’

And honestly, I understood that when I was reading it. Yes, obviously vision is important. 2+2=4. Duh. But I didn’t really get it until I had finished mapping my own visions and realized, with great humility, that this was the most important part of the job all along.

The price of physicians

My tuition for the upcoming school year (2013-2014) is $632,000 JMD (about $6,000 USD).

This is after an 80% government sponsorship.

Which makes the actual school fee closer to $3,000,000 ($30,000 USD).

Medical students have to find this money every year, and the price is hiked further and further away from our increasingly smaller wallets. And contrary to popular belief, medical school is not crammed with rich kids. Some people have parents who’ve invested blood, sweat and tears to make sure that their offspring can have his/her life’s dream. Some people have scholarships. Some people are paid for by their governments. And, yes, some people just happen to be rich kids whose parents can fork out $1.5M a year to keep their kid happy and occupied. But it still costs money.

Keep in mind that tuition doesn’t include living expenses, or textbooks. Medical textbooks run in the thousands of dollars. Very few texts cost less than $1,000 USD, and the expensive ones are the essential ones that’ll take you through your entire medical school career. Only, you have to buy two or three of them every year.

One sociological theory (I think it’s Functionalism, but don’t quote me on that) says that the worth of a profession (i.e. how much the professional should be paid) ought to be directly proportional to how much they invested in their education.

You spend all this money on your medical education, and graduate with living expenses to pay up and loans to pay off. You get a job – you’re almost guaranteed a job – that doesn’t pay you nearly enough to live half as lavishly as most of society thinks doctors do. Many interns live at home and fight for extra duty hours at the hospital so they can save enough money to be comfortable . . . eventually. If there is one habit you pick up in medical school, it is investment. You invest in studying to pass exams, in years of education to get a good job, in your career so your family can live comfortably. You get used to delayed happiness. But I digress.

The government of Jamaica is struggling to afford its doctors. It’s fighting to stem the brain drain that we’ve been hearing about since primary school, and which has never been more real since you’ve come face to face with the black hole of occupational opportunities. It’s fighting to keep producing doctors from willing students who just can’t afford university.

On the other hand, the University of the West Indies has made a business of creating doctors, opening their doors to everyone who can afford it. The new Medical Sciences building is the  carrot on a stick for international students, the ones with the money. Because it makes no economical sense for them to cater only to a government (Jamaica) with a running tab that they never pay (that 80% government sponsorship is really more like a giant IOU). You really can’t blame them; they’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Meanwhile the public grabs at free health care with both hands while simultaneously berating the substandard service. They raise hell when doctors “sick out” in response to low pay and bad working conditions. They don’t understand that everything has a price.

But it does.

Everything has a price.


Been away for a while guys, my apologies. Having no internet will do that to you. I’m still not 100% back, but keep looking out for updates, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff I need to rant about.