My parents wanted me to become a doctor but i followed my heart


A career is medicine is stressful enough for the doctors who see it as a calling. For those who vì it because their parents forced them, it could be critical


‘In the hyper-competitive world of medicine, even those with the marks và motivation battle lớn get in, so there is even less room for those with the marks but scant motivation.’ Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP
‘In the hyper-competitive world of medicine, even those with the marks & motivation battle khổng lồ get in, so there is even less room for those with the marks but scant motivation.’ Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP
There I was, almost at the kết thúc of the night, having spoken lớn a few hundred hand-picked, talented high school students about my life as a doctor. Their youth was no barrier to their determination to lớn be the best – I met budding astronauts, focused scientists, concerned environmentalists, & as usual, a horde of kids who dreamed of becoming doctors.

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The students asked penetrating questions about everything from the ethics of million-dollar drugs lớn whether children compromised one’s career. These were teenagers! With each question, my admiration grew & I briefly dreamed that one day, in my household, there might be such questions lớn replace, “Have you seen the remote?”

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I was signing books when I noticed a girl, who hovered on the side, waiting till the crowd had cleared.

“I don’t know how lớn ask this without being rude,” she ventured, before my silence enabled her.

“My parents really want me to vì chưng medicine but I’m not interested. How do I say no?”

It was the curliest question of the night.

“I think I can get in but my heart is not in it.”

“It’s great that you recognise it,” I said. “Have you tried talking lớn your parents?”

“I’ve tried và tried, but they have invested their whole life in my brother and me.”

“What would happen if you said no?”

“They would be really disappointed in me. That would break my heart.”

And then:

“But if I did medicine, I wouldn’t be honest to myself. & I’d take the spot of someone who really wanted it.”

She faced a wicked dilemma: whether lớn obey the urging of her parents or rely on her own, admittedly young, instinct. A momentous decision hung in the air, the sort parents can help address, but of course, the parents were the problem. Và though she relaxed at the opportunity khổng lồ voice her dilemma, I knew that the knots in her stomach would return soon.

I wished that I could sweep away her problem; I wished I could convince her parents that a child of her poise & humility would do well in whatever she chose. I told her to lớn see the school counsellor again & I reminded her khổng lồ be true khổng lồ herself but when she left, I felt hollow, musing whether she would one day be the troubled student or the depressed intern I encounter.

Although I don’t know her parents, I meet them regularly. I meet them at social events và medical talks. I meet them at seemingly benign movie nights and picnics when the conversation turns lớn medicine.

“He’s got the marks, he’s all mix with the entrance test, all he needs is a coach for the interview,” a mother breathlessly explained. “Do you know anyone?”

“No,” I deadpan.

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“I just want her lớn be happy,” says another. “You’re happy, aren’t you?”

“I am but she isn’t me.”

Another time an acquaintance of an acquaintance knocks on my door, a tired son in tow. “We want last-minute tips for his interview.”

Students pondering a career in medicine, I have always welcomed. Parents who vị it on behalf of their child, I am increasingly wary of. The students are largely altruistic; the parents aspire khổng lồ status, money & job security. I don’t blame them but what they don’t realise is that in the hyper-competitive world of medicine, even those with the marks & motivation battle lớn get in, so there is even less room for those with the marks but scant motivation.

Some years ago I interviewed a young man who was obviously bored, even in our eight-minute high-intensity interaction. His opening salvo: “Can I just tell you that I want khổng lồ be an accountant?”

“Wrong interview then,” I said lightly.

“I got the marks and my dad made me come. My dad is a doctor.”

“Did you tell him you aren’t interested?”

“No point, but I hope khổng lồ fail the interview.”

I was left reeling but I was told that no selection process can filter out pushy parents; we wait for the students to find their voice.

Doctors are often asked if they would recommend the profession lớn their children. A survey of American doctors by the Physicians Foundation found that more than half say no, citing the triumph of paperwork & bureaucracy over time with patients.

When I talk khổng lồ my Australian colleagues, I hear similar sentiments. Doctors sign up khổng lồ help people but are faced with growing mountains of paperwork, mindless compulsory modules và maddening meetings lớn satisfy performance indicators that make a mockery of patient-centred care.

Many doctors are burnt out, bullied và demoralised. Work is stressful and demanding. A 2013 Beyond xanh survey put paid khổng lồ the notion that these are merely the groans of a self-indulgent, richly rewarded profession. Australian doctors have a substantially higher rate of high psychological distress compared lớn the general population & other professionals. An astonishing quarter have considered suicide, double the comparable figure in other professionals.

These figures are not just statistics – they are my friends and my residents. My professional landscape is strewn with doctors in trouble with alcohol và prescription drugs, doctors with broken relationships, sick of work và exhausted at home. I attend funerals và wonder how no one ever knew and I learn that no one is immune.

And yet, I love being a doctor because there is something undeniably special and enormously satisfying about helping people at their sickest & lowest. Amid the gratuitous noise và politics, every day the door in clinic still closes & it’s just the patient và you. Và you can’t help realising just how sacrosanct is the trust invested in you & how extraordinary that a complete stranger might let you into the most intimate recesses of his life, hoping that you might just mend the most fragile parts.

A friend who left medical school to pursue a lauded career in banking thirsts lớn this day to hear my ordinary stories about patient care. He says he’s comfortable but misses the sense of calling. This is something I have heard said many times.

A career in medicine has vast & varied promise but the happiest doctors I know have narrowed it down to one thing: medicine not merely as work but a calling. This doesn’t melt away the challenges but it puts them in perspective. On good days, it creates indelible memories; on bad days, it’s a handy shield.

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If you are a parent and your child desperately wants to lớn study medicine, the greatest favour you could vì chưng her is help her distinguish between a job & a vocation. On the other hand, if your reluctant child has a parent who desperately wants him to lớn study medicine, step back for a moment & consider the statistics. Forcing your child to lớn become a doctor might turn out khổng lồ be the worst parenting decision you ever made.