Hauteur egotism has no place in medical school – no matter how stressful it gets.
“Professionalism” is the core of our Introduction to the Medical Profession (IMP) sessions, and it has been discussed and emphasized through various forms: films, open forums, and lectures. Its frequency in discussions discloses the college’s desire to make us realize its importance, if not to persistently remind us that we did not choose to walk this road for the heck of it, but to take on the challenge of becoming five-star physicians. Professionalism boasts of a wide spectrum of definitions but it all boils down to meeting society’s expectations of a specific profession. In the medical context, it is providing the best healthcare.
Alas, to those who are still in the beginning of their medical journey, it would not be surprising if professionalism remains to be a mere concept. In order to get to point B, you have to make it past point A, which in our case, would be passing our exams and making sure we get promoted to the next level. Because there is so much on our plate at the moment—textbooks to read, information to digest, and exams to ace—it becomes seemingly valid to forego this matter. After all, it has been repeatedly discussed, with every possible angle taken and scrutinized, just so its importance in the clinical setting won’t be missed. The general train of thought is: “Yeah, enough already. We get it.”
But do we, really?
Picture this: You have three patients to attend to—a toddler with a probable genetic disorder refusing to eat, a grade-schooler with his first asthma attack, and an adolescent with likely appendicitis. You take on a patient, when suddenly one mother starts screaming her lungs out, demanding that she was first in line and that her daughter ought to be treated first. Your other patient starts crying. One of your fellow interns pop up and inform you that your senior resident is looking for you. You are two hours away from the end of your 24-hour shift, and sans the basic physiologic functions that keep you barely awake and alert, you’re solely dependent on two cups of that stale coffee from the vendo machine. You have yet to eat your second meal of the day. You reek of vomit, and even without seeing your reflection, you know you look like crap. At the back of your mind, you firmly believe that you did not spend so much money, time and effort to be treated like this.
Will you be able to summon the patience to communicate in the proper manner and act accordingly, in spite of your circumstances? What will you do?
All the subjects we take up in med school prepare us to become competent practitioners, and our future patients deserve their due of good medical care—it is expected of us. But more than our competency and the stellar credentials that come with it, it is our ability to weather through all types of scenarios, and ultimately, the ability to reach out and understand our patients’ concerns that set us apart from a business enterprise. Med school and residency are said to be transformative because we are subject to situations which would test not only our head knowledge, but our ability to cope and maintain “grace under pressure”. This is precisely why the subject of professionalism should not be taken with a grain of salt—because this, too, needs practice.
It is easy to imagine ourselves as doctors who would create waves in the medical field several years from now, doctors who would be able to hold their own in a chaotic emergency room with patients clamoring for our attention. It is easy to claim that we are going to be different from the professors who would enter class an hour and a half late to deliver a lecture. It is easy to say that things are going to change for the better once we step foot as residents in the hospital, that our patients will always be our primary concern.
But the reality is when fatigue and discouragement set in and our own needs are compromised, it becomes a struggle to keep our focus and stick to our guns. We are humans, after all, and becoming a physician does not strip us of our basic necessities of feeding, sleeping and bathing, given that in order to function well, we must also be at our best. The hospital setting seems so far off, and seemingly inconsequential at this point, but the reason why so much value is placed in professionalism is because it will decide what type of doctor we will become. The attitude that is required of a medical professional cannot be acquired overnight, but must be tempered over time.
And what better time to start, but now, in medical school? In the formative years? We, at the very start, must prepare and reject the idea that we are here merely to survive.
The promise of a great career should ideally get us through nights of reviewing, the stress of meeting requirements, and the anxiety of whether we’ll make it. But the truth is that there are times when we may be overcome by greed and selfishness, thinking that in order to attain that coveted “M.D” and reach the top, we have to drag other people down. Instances when we are so desperate to succeed, we resort to unscrupulous means to get ahead. That it is okay to break off a few relationships just to prove that we are right and others are wrong. That because we have sacrificed so much, it is only right that we ask and receive what is due, that we are entitled a pat on the back for all our efforts.
There are two good points to ponder: first, medicine is not the avenue for us to bask in the greatness of ourselves. There is no room for self-entitlement anywhere in service. Second, we are all bound to make mistakes, but that’s perfectly normal. We did not enter med school, polished and ready to take on a patient on the first go. Learning is essentially what our entire med school experience is about, and this is not limited to the lectures within the four corners of our classroom—even in interacting with our future colleagues, the staff, and doctors, we become privy to how to better conduct ourselves, learn to exercise patience and trust, and in turn open ourselves for transformation.
As future medical professionals, we owe it to our patients to choose to become better. Undeniably, we all have our own set of values and principles, and we all handle situations differently. There is no cookie-cutter solution to conquer situations; more so, we all have different motivations as to why we pursued this path. But at the end of the day, we are bound by medical professionalism, which is the daily expression of what generally attracted us to this field in the first place – a desire to help people and society as a whole.
This is a good reminder every time we feel like flaking out. With this in mind, it will be easier to drive ourselves forward when in a slump; that there is a point to all this, as hazy and confusing as it may seem at times. It will be easier to think less of ourselves and more of others. It will be easier, not to forget, but to accept that although we have not slept for twenty-four hours and are running on only two or three cups of coffee to make it through a hectic day, we will thrive in the experience because it is who we are and who we’ve chosen to become.
If we allow these motivations to grow within us at this point, it will be much easier to see its fruits come actual patient encounters in the clinic. Our interactions will be painted with compassion and wisdom that it is not to a select few that we have worked our asses off, but to the general public, no matter the background and condition—everyone deserves to get the best treatment.
A medical professional.
It may appear difficult to wrap our heads on something so far off when the period between “now” and “what will be” is laden with different possibilities. To take the first step even without seeing the whole staircase would require courage and faith, if not in a Greater Being, but at least in your future self. Because what binds “now” and “what will be” are the choices that will be made from here on.
And in order to become that future medical professional we aspire to be, that choice to continue walking forward with intact dignity and values makes all the difference.